Archive for June, 2020


Urgent Action: Billy Wardlow faces execution for a crime when aged 18

Urgent Action 108/20 (AMR 51/2595/2020 USA)

Billy Wardlow’s execution is scheduled for 8 July 2020.  He is on death row in Texas, USA in connection with the 1993 murder of an 82-year-old man when he was just 18 years old.  The jury that sentenced Billy Wardlow was never presented mitigating evidence.  Since 2005, it’s unconstitutional to impose a death sentence on anyone younger than 18 when the crime occurred.  Scientific research shows that development of the brain and psychological and emotional maturation continues into a person’s 20s. Two jurors now believe that he should serve a life sentence instead. We urge Governor Abbott to grant clemency.

Please read this UA for more details and a model appeal.

Please ask Texas Governor Abbott, as the main target, to grant clemency.  Can you also please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which puts forward recommendations to the Governor on decisions on clemency:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78757
Fax: (512) 467-0945

Further details are available in this link.

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes the sentence in all circumstances. As of 2020, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice. The US has executed 1518 people since 1976, and the State of Texas has accounted for 569 of those executions.

See also the Texas Campaign Against the Death Penalty TCADP.

UPDATE Note that the Governor’s email address is incorrect. 


Today is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

This is a post by Reprieve which we are republishing today (26 June 2020) in view of its significance.  

Please spare a thought for Husain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadhan.  Husain and Mohammed are two victims among thousands in Bahrain’s broken justice system.  Reprieve works in Bahrain to challenge the rampant use of torture in cases where it is used to put people like Husain and Mohammed on death row.

Reprieve are asking will you chip in and help them end the use of torture in Bahrain and beyond?

Reprieve are challenging Husain and Mohammed’s death sentences.  Their so-called ‘confessions’ are the only evidence used against them – and the Bahraini authorities obtained them using torture.  If we win their case in Bahrain’s highest court, we will save their lives and have the chance to set a game-changing precedent in the small country, signalling that torture can never lead to justice.

This case isn’t easy.  Proving to Bahraini courts that their own justice system failed Husain and Mohammed requires a lot of creativity and time from our investigators, lawyers and campaigners.  And that’s why I need your help to keep this work going.

If you visit the Reprieve site you will be able to contribute – even a small amount will help.


See some of our previous stories about Bahrain:

Salisbury firm alleged to be selling spyware to Bahrain

F1 and human rights in Bahrain

Theresa May’s visit to Bahrain

Sad news

Posted: June 24, 2020 in Group news
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The Salisbury Amnesty group is very sad to record the death of one of its founder members, Michael Stokely.  He has remained a stalwart supporter and contributed to meetings right up to lockdown.  He was ‘in at the start’ and the group’s continuing success is due in no small part to his efforts.  He will be sadly missed.


The women who campaigned for women to be able to drive in Saudi still in gaol

ACTION TODAY WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE

Next week marks two years since women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to drive.

As part of his Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is working hard to be seen as the moderniser of Saudi Arabia, introducing a number of social reforms.

Meanwhile, thirteen Saudi women’s rights activists remain on trial for peacefully campaigning for the same reforms, including the right to drive.  Five of them are still behind bars – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada.

We’re asking our supporters to take action together this Wednesday 24 June – the day women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, while these women’s rights defenders were locked up in prison charged with, among other things, “promoting women’s rights”.

Please share this horn graphic on social media with the following message:

I stand with #Saudi women rights activists who fought for the right to drive. It’s shameful they were locked up for demanding equality. Join me & @AmnestyUK calling on @KingSalman to release them & drop all charges: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/beepforfreedom #BeepForFreedom CC @SaudiEmbassyUK

Thank you!


President Trump issues serious threat to the ICC, its staff and families

The international legal order established after the Second World War seems further away than ever.  The increasing number of despots in countries such as China, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary and Russia pose a severe threat to the world order and human rights.  In addition to infringements in their own countries, their influence is increasing overseas with the Chinese in particular securing greater influence and a say in the UN’s activities.

In John Bolton’s memoir published this week, he alleges (among many other things) President Trump praised President Xi Jing-Ping for the imprisonment of the Uighurs, around a million of whom are incarcerated in re-education camps and suffer severe restrictions.

President Trump and his staff – including William Barr, the Attorney General of the USA – launched an unprecedented legal and economic attack on the ICC, its staff and family members.   He alleges it is a ‘kangaroo court’ and has alleged corruption of its members.

The USA – along with Russia, China and Israel – are not members of the organisation which came into being after the Rome Statute in 1998 and operates in the Hague.  For a long time, the court was criticised for focusing on crimes in Africa, but recently, they have begun to investigate Israel’s ever increasing seizure of Palestinian land and America’s activities in Afghanistan.   America sees itself as a beacon on international values and will not allow jurisdiction over its citizens by an overseas court.  It claims that any violations by its personnel or servicemen or women are investigated so there is no need for a court such as the ICC.

THE international response has been one of dismay.  The problem is not just this court but the attitude of POTUS to all outside or international organisations which are treated with contempt or hostility.  This is the flip side of ‘putting America first’ which what he promised at his election of course.  An Amnesty director said:

The Trump administration has a well-honed pattern of undermining and all-out assaults on multilateral institutions, rather than doing the sometimes difficult, but necessary work of joining them, sustaining them, and working to improve them.  Today’s announcement is yet another assault on vital institutions that help people look after one another and provide survivors of rights abuses with justice.

The vague and open-ended language in the executive order could leave open the possibility that NGO workers, activists, foreign government officials, and others working to advance international justice may find themselves implicated by these obstructive measures.

The ICC has investigated individuals responsible for some of the world’s most horrific crimes, including those in Myanmar, the Central African Republic, and Darfur, to name just a few.  The ICC is a court of last resort; it exists to provide justice in situations where states are unwilling or unable to do so.  It is a court for the people.  That the Trump Administration is so committed to targeting the court speaks volumes about its lack of commitment to delivering justice to individuals, families, and communities.  Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director for AI USA

Human Rights Watch say:

There is a need for clear, principled and forceful messages from the EU in support of the ICC and condemnation of US attacks on the court are necessary and urgently needed.

In a statement, the ICC itself said:

The International Criminal Court expresses profound regret at the announcement of further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the Court and its officials, made earlier today by the Government of the United States.

The ICC stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate bestowed upon it by the Rome Statute and the States that are party to it.

These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC, an independent international judicial institution, as well as on the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, which reflects the commitment and cooperation of the ICC’s 123 States Parties, representing all regions of the world. […]

It is deeply concerning that one of the founding nations of the UN and the UNHDR and for a long time regarded as the leader of the free world, should descend to these sort of tactics and behaviours.  The threats are little more than we could expect from some tin pot dictatorship, affronted by an international organisation looking into their illegal activities.  It is not what we should expect from a nation such as USA.

Sources: Aljazeera; Guardian; Human Rights Watch; Deutche Well; Amnesty; ICC

 

 


UK government continues to sell arms to Saudi in violation of court ruling

This post is almost entirely based on a post by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, concerning the continuing sale of arms to the Saudi regime despite a court decision telling them to stop and the devastating effects these weapons are having on the people of Yemen.

It’s one year since CAAT won a landmark victory at the Court of Appeal challenging the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  As a result of that ruling, we have stopped the export of new weapons for use in the war in Yemen.  A multi-billion pound deal to sell more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia remains on hold.

This is significant progress, but there is more to do.  The government is fighting every step of the way to continue the arms sales.  It is appealing to the Supreme Court for a final decision, with the hearing scheduled for 23-25 November.  Meanwhile the government has still not complied with the Court of Appeal ruling that it should retake its previous decisions to allow weapons sales, and it is continuing to supply the war in Yemen.  It’s not just CAAT lawyers who are demanding answers; in today’s Observer (21 June 2020) all of the Opposition parties have united to call for urgent action.

We must end UK complicity in the war in Yemen.  Thousands of people have been killed by five years of bombing, many more by hunger and disease, and now Yemen is facing a dual threat of cholera and COVID-19 with a health system shattered by war.  One estimate is around 8,000 have died.  There seems no end in sight to the conflict.

Shamefully, UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have played a central role in this destruction.  CAAT’s case challenges the sale of these weapons.  UK rules state that weapons should not be sold where there is a “clear risk” that they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law.  Yet the UK government has continued to support the supply of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, even as it has bombed schools, hospitals and food supplies.  If the government won’t follow its own rules, we need to make it do so.

In last year’s ruling, the Court of Appeal found that that the government had failed to properly assess the risk of weapons exported from the UK being used in violations of international humanitarian law.  The government was ordered to retake all its previous decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, in a lawful way.  New arms sales were put on hold until this review is complete.  The government agreed to undertake the review as a matter of priority.  Yet, one year on, it has still not completed the review ordered by the Court.  All the time that review has not been completed, weapons sales can continue under pre-existing licences – and BAE Systems can still maintain the warplanes bombing Yemen.

So we must keep the pressure on. The government was ordered to retake its decisions, not just carry on with business as usual.

Sources: Amnesty International; Observer; Global Conflict Tracker, CAAT


Message from Forum 18

Supporters may know that we have a prisoner of conscience window in the Cathedral and one of our members posts up a new POC each week, something we have been doing for decades now.  We were gratified to receive this message from Forum 18 a member of which saw the latest POC and wrote to us concerning the plight of individuals in Kazakhstan and other countries in the region.  Kazakhstan is a country which does not receive that much attention:

Having visited Salisbury since I was a teenager, I’ve long admired the Group’s initiative in every month having information on a prisoner of conscience beneath the Cathedral’s Prisoner of Conscience Window. The combination of the window, the cathedral, and monthly updated credible verified information on a prisoner of conscience is very helpful.

As this month the prisoner of conscience chosen is from Kazakhstan, you might find it help to see information on some of the other prisoners of conscience in that country: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2570 

The information comes from Forum 18, for which I work.  We provide truthful, original, detailed, and accurate monitoring and analysis of violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people – whatever their belief or non-belief – in Central Asia, Russia, Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas, the South Caucasus particularly Azerbaijan, and Belarus.  We also publish occasional analyses on Turkey.  The name ‘Forum 18’ comes from Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

We publish articles by e-mail, on our website ww.forum18.org , and are on Facebook @Forum18NewsService and Twitter @forum_18 . If it would help, I’d be glad to arrange for any of the Group to receive the weekly news summary.  Anyone may free-of-charge use or reproduce material we publish with due credit to Forum 18.

Many thanks once again for the Group’s continuing work, including on the Prisoner of Conscience Window.

Another POC from Kazakhstan is featured on Amnesty International’s site.


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Death penalty report (Word)

No to the death penalty

Just Mercy film

Posted: June 9, 2020 in "Human rights", Film
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We hope to show this film at the Arts Centre in November but it will depend of course on lockdown restrictions being lifted.  It has been discussed in a recent Independent article.   It is particularly apposite at the present time as it highlights the unequal status of black people in the US both with the police and the justice system as a whole.  It also relates to our last post concerning the release of Walter Ogrod after many years on death row for a crime he did not commit.


An innocent man released from death row after 23 years

Walter Ogrod, who has spent 23 years on death row following his conviction of a murder he did not commit, has had his conviction overturned and left prison a free man.  Mr Ogrod – who is on the autistic spectrum – initially confessed to the crime but his lawyers argued that he was coerced into making this confession, and he has since protested his innocence.  His first trial ended in an 11 to 1 verdict to acquit and a mistrial, but in his second trial he was convicted on ‘jailhouse hearsay’ and sentenced to death.  Note:  Pennsylvania has been cited by the DPIC as having the fifth largest number of inmates on death row in the US, but has conducted only 3 executions since 1976.

Walter Ogrod’s case is impossibly tragic, James Rollins, one of Ogrod’s attorneys, said in a statement after the hearing:

This innocent man and his family lost almost 30 years that they should have spent together. Instead, that irreplaceable time together is gone, lost to a system that keeps making the same mistakes.  The Intercept 5 June 2020

Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and this example illustrates how a miscarriage of justice could have led to an innocent man being executed.  There are many similar examples in the USA which is the only country in the Americas to retain the penalty.

In the UK, there are many who would like to bring back the death penalty.  A YouGov poll three years ago found that 58% of those polled were in favour of the penalty for terrorist acts; 57% for multiple murders and 53% for murder of a child.  Overall, 45% were opposed for all cases of murder and 34% in favour.  The abolition of the penalty was recently celebrated.   Walter Ogrod is an example of how a mistake cannot be rectified once a person has been executed.

Source; The Guardian; The Intercept