Last evening we went carol signing in Albany and Belle View Roads in Salisbury with a group of singers from the Farrants. It was a bit touch and go whether we would do it this year and we certainly had to scale things down. The singers had to observe distance rules and of course we could not go close to doorways. We were delighted with the response though and several family groups stood in their doorways to enjoy carols sung by a choir of dedicated singers. With thanks to the Farrants, group members Jonathan, Joanna and Lesley for helping. This is around the 15th year we have sung carols in this area of Salisbury.
We would like to wish all our supporters and followers, a Happy Christmas and a safe New Year.
John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, has been accused by the ex-leader of his party of ‘kowtowing’ to China
This accusation was made in the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative supporting tabloid paper, in an article on 24 October 2020. Mr Glen, a Treasury Minister, gave a speech at an event organised by the 48 Group Club which was set up to promote Sino-British relations. Mr Glen is alleged to have said that ‘Britain and China are natural partners and that the two sides have broad prospects for cooperation in financial services and the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.’ [No text of the speech is available on the 48 Group Club’s website or on the Treasury site.]
Pursuing increased commercial contact and encouraging greater trade was a creditable endeavour. Greater understanding was always to be supported and many of the 500 or so individuals who are members of the Club are likely to have had that in mind when joining.
But since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed markedly. China has become a repressive state with a catalogue of infringements against international norms. It’s justice system is plagued by unfair trials and the use of torture. Repression of whole areas of the country including Tibet and Xinjiang is severe. The Government continues to harass, intimidate and prosecute human right defenders. All media and the internet are rigorously censored. There is little religious freedom with churches, mosques and temples destroyed on government orders. China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.
Over the past year, attention has focused on the treatment of Uighurs, a million of whom are incarcerated in so-called training establishments which nevertheless are surrounded by high walls and watchtowers and are closed to outside observers. Recently, concern has been expressed at the use of forced labour to produce cotton and western companies are being urged to ensure cotton produced using such labour is not used in their products.
In July a book was published by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World’ (One World Press) which claims that the 48 Group Club is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’. Looking into the group does seem to reveal some curious issues. It claims many members of the political establishment some of whom say they have no knowledge of joining. Who funds them is not explained on their website.
48 Group is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’ book claims
Mr Glen cannot claim ignorance of the appalling human rights situation in China since many members of the Salisbury Amnesty group have written to him on many occasions. He will be aware of the concerns about China’s increasing bellicose actions against Taiwan and border conflict with India. China has reneged on the Hong Kong agreement and is tightening its grip on the state. However, we know from the They Work for you site that Mr Glen ‘generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights’. Many countries are beginning to review their relations with the country in view of the policies of the communist regime and the threats they pose.
Mr Duncan Smith claims that the speech was written for him which, as it does not seem to have been published or made available, we cannot know. It does suggest however, that the government is anxious to press on with closer commercial contacts with China despite the increasing risks and despite the appalling human rights situation there. It is perhaps an inevitable result of the Brexit decision (supported by Mr Glen) and the shock that will give to the economy: we must seek business where we may and not be too squeamish about with whom.
That may be so, but for Mr Glen allegedly to praise President Xi, as the Mail on Sunday claims, to a suspect lobbying organisation, raises many uncomfortable questions.
Sources: Mail on Line [accessed 15 December 2020]; Endole; Daily Express; upnewsinfo.com; Amnesty International. Sites searched but with no reference to the speech: Salisbury Journal; Treasury; John Glen MP’s website [all accessed 18 December 2020]
The human rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, faces a lengthy jail term in Saudi Arabia for advocating the right of women to drive a car and for campaigning for the end of the male guardianship system.
In 2018, she was abducted and arrested for defying the ban on women driving and for her campaigning against the male guardianship system. She was held for many months incommunicado, and in prison was beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured with electric shocks and waterboarded. Human rights groups, including Amnesty, and the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged for her to be released.
The latest news is that at a hearing in a terrorism court, the judge said the sentence would be announced on Monday.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed when he first assumed power, that he would reform the justice system in that country. There has been little sign of that since with arrests of opponents, routine use of torture, harsh crackdowns on anyone opposing the monarchy and widespread use of the death penalty. He faces little pressure to change however, with the UK and other western countries all too ready to fawn over the prince in their desire to secure lucrative arms deals. Astonishingly, the UK government was active behind the scenes in securing a place for Saudi on the UN’s Human Rights Council.
The interview was made because of President Trump’s programme of carrying out a string of Federal executions in the lame duck period before President elect Joe Biden takes over in January. The number of these is unprecedented.
Airbnb continues to list properties illegal settlements
Last year Airbnb shamefully reversed its decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements from their online platform, exposing the hollowness of their claims to be a company that values human rights. They continue to promote these listings, despite knowing that these settlements are illegal under international law, and a war crime.
Settlements are at the root of a wide range of human rights violations against Palestinian communities. Airbnb are acting in direct contradiction with international law and their own corporate standards.
Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report on companies with specific links to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank which included Airbnb. Naming the businesses which profit in the context of this illegal situation sends a clear message that Israel’s settlement enterprise must never be normalized.
Now Airbnb has started the process of becoming a publicly listed company on the US stock exchange and hopes to raise billions of dollars to grow and expand its tourism operations around the world.
Amnesty International has extensively documented the ways in which digital tourism companies like Airbnb contribute to human rights violations against Palestinians and we continue to call for Airbnb and others to stop all activity in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Newspaper exposes an extraordinary secret deal made between Switzerland and China
Switzerland is a country which has seldom appeared on this site. It has an image of being a peaceful, civilised country with a close attachment to laws and rules. Indeed it is something of an example to the rest of the world having avoided wars for centuries. It never joined the EU. Several human rights based organisations are based in Geneva. The only thing said against it is the secret nature of its banking system which enables billions of dollars to be secreted away out of sight of the host country.
So it has come of something of a shock to discover that it has signed a secret deal with China to facilitate the repatriation of Chinese nationals back to that country. Readmission agreements as they are called are common and Switzerland itself has around 60 of them including one with the UK. These are published or otherwise available and the personnel involved have to be validated by both countries. Not so in the case of China.
The Swiss agreement allows officers from the Ministry of Public Security, which is implicated in widespread, systematic and wide-ranging human rights abuses, free and secret access to the country. Their agents are accused of crimes against humanity. Yet they roam free in Switzerland carrying out unsupervised interviews and operations in their attempts to track down Chinese nationals and repatriate them to China. The Swiss do not check on their activities or know who is being sent back. Of those who have been sent back, their whereabouts are unknown.
Details of this extraordinary story was revealed by the newspaper NZZ amSonntag in August and a fuller story has appeared in Safeguard Defenders. It was kept secret it has been claimed, because it was ‘an administrative agreement’. Now that some Swiss parliamentarians have become aware of it, how long it will last we shall have to see. But it seems to be another example of some western countries craven attitude towards the Chinese despite increasing knowledge of their multiple human rights abuses.
This months Death Penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for putting it together. Two cases in particular are noted and links to those can be found below. Note that China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but details are a state secret.
Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world being available in more than 500 languages,
2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights
This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.
10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.
Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.
Amnesty members around the world write millions of letters each year and it can sometimes feel a little dispiriting. They seldom get replies and the results (if any) are often difficult to discover. It can seem a fruitless exercise. True, every now and then, there is a success (which we have highlighted on this site where group members have been involved) but they are infrequent.
So the webinar held yesterday (2 December 2020) was particularly uplifting. It featured three speakers: Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, Geraldine Chacón from Venezuela and the Sena Atici, the Individuals at Risk Coordinator at AIUK. Members of the South West group (pictured outside the cathedral in Exeter) will be familiar with Geraldine who came to speak to us in that city in March, just before lockdown.
Geraldine, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested in 2018 by the Venezuelan authorities as part of an exercise against all critics of the government. She was held in appalling conditions for 4 months and although eventually released, she was not permitted to leave the country. In common with a host of regimes nowadays, she was accused of being a ‘terrorist,’ a kind of go-to accusation for anyone a government doesn’t like.
She described how being arrested changed everything and how she felt isolated and forgotten. ‘Nothing was in your control’ she said. Thousands wrote letters which in fact, she never received. In prison, she was completely isolated. Her mother did however, and the government also received many thousands. ‘When you’re an activist, you’re not that sure that you are making a difference. Being on the other side, I saw how it had an impact and made a difference’ she added.
‘I know [the letters] make a difference – I am the living proof of that’
In her talk in Exeter, she said ‘[the police] want you to stop – without the support, I might have done.’
There were several questions from the public at the webinar presentation around effectiveness and risk. Can these
letters increase the risk to the prisoner? The answer was that the International Secretariat look carefully at this before someone is included in a Write for Rights campaign. If it is felt that there is risk, they are not included.
This was a most successful webinar. For all those who occasionally ask themselves ‘is it worth it?’ – is it worth the price of a stamp to a regime where it is unlikely to be read or to make a difference? the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’. As Geraldine’s case demonstrates, not only for her, but for family members as well, these letters show support and that the world is watching. For people who are arrested for no real reason and languish in prison, knowing that they are not forgotten is a powerful message.