Archive for March, 2021


Listen to the podcast of this post.

This urgent action is on behalf of a Christian couple in Pakistan who are on death row for ‘Blasphemy’ still a crime in that country. If convicted, the death penalty is mandatory. The laws are vague and arouse considerable tensions. Allegations can be made and it is extremely difficult for the police and courts to carry out proper investigations. Angry crowds can congregate, whipped up by religious clerics and their supporters, making it extremely difficult for justice to be done. Judges are under pressure to convict or risk becoming targets themselves. Some individuals take the law into their own hands and anyone associated with the accused, including lawyers, are at risk of attack or murder.

Another problem is constant trial postponements as judges are reluctant to decide. Since defendants are denied bail, it can mean years spent in captivity. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has said that many of these accusations are false and are made for ulterior motives and to settle feuds.

This UA is on behalf of a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagfur Kauser sentence to death in 2014 for allegedly sending a blasphemous text to a cleric. They have been in prison for nearly 8 years awaiting their appeal. They should not be in prison at all.

The link below gives the full details and a suggested letter which can be sent via email. Since many of our followers are in the USA (welcome!) the US embassy address to send copies is:

Embassy of Pakistan

3517 International Ct

Washington DC 20008

Or the email is: info@embassyofpakistanusa.org

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/2021-03/UA02721.pdf?QEv1vD6d7Ni0TZ2dP39_R6PJEihuUAaO=

We hope you have time to write. Thank you.


Bahrain Grand Prix puts motor sport in the spotlight again

Listen to the podcast of this post.

One of the countries which consistently ignores human rights is the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Gulf. The list of infractions is rather long: trials are unfair and confessions extracted using torture; there is no freedom of speech and the last independent newspaper was closed three years ago; women do not have equal rights; the death penalty has been reintroduced and prison conditions are exceedingly poor. Reports by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations set these out in some detail.

The UN report notes:

The Committee is concerned about reports that acts of torture and ill‑treatment are often committed by law enforcement officials, including as a means of eliciting confessions, that, despite the prohibition in domestic law, confessions obtained under duress have been used as evidence in court and that allegations made by defendants in this respect have not been adequately investigated. The Committee is also concerned about reports of torture in prisons, particularly in the Jau prison. It notes with concern the lack of information on investigations carried out and convictions handed down vis-à-vis the number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment (arts. 2, 6, 7 and 14).

United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner 2017

For some years, human rights groups have asked FIA, the Grand Prix organisation to adopt human rights policies but it’s website does not appear to have any such policy.

The Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton, has spoken out about the human rights situation in Bahrain prior to the race starting tomorrow (28 March 2021). He said:

I don’t think we should be going to these countries and ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a good time and then leave. Human rights I don’t think, should be a political issue. We all deserve equal rights.

Jerome Pigmire, AP, 25 March 2021

He went on to say that he had hoped to speak to the Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa after last year’s race. His answer is a little oblique explaining that such matters were best addressed in private without clarifying whether he had or not. In any event, this is progress and for a prominent driver to be highlighting this issue when the governing body itself seems unconcerned is encouraging. Apparently, Hamilton received letters from three survivors of torture in Bahrain giving details of extreme beatings and sexual abuse. This led him to try and educate himself into what was happening there which has included speaking to Amnesty International.

The Kingdom denies denies claims of human rights abuses saying that ‘[the] promotion and protection of human rights [are] an essential part of the Kingdom’s strategy in developing state institutions and national legislation.’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy have asked the new F1 CEO Stefan Domenicali to establish a commission of independent experts to investigate the human rights impact of F1’s activities in Bahrain (27 March).

Sport is about money. Despotic regimes have deep pockets with which to host international sporting events such as motor racing, football, boxing or golf. Few questions are asked and the sports pages of newspapers are full of action photos and breathless prose about these events. They rarely sully their coverage with information about the gross human rights infringements, torture and executions taking place in the host country. Blind eyes are turned.

But maybe things are beginning to change. Sporting heroes have huge followings sometimes from people who may not pay too much attention to politics. Perhaps Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton are early examples of greater awareness by sporting stars of what is going on around them. Whereas human rights activists can be safely ignored by politicians, these stars with their huge followings, cannot be.


Caroline Nokes MP speaks candidly to the Southampton Amnesty group

Immigration, refugees and asylum seekers are a toxic subject in the UK and the situation seems to be getting worse not better.  This week, the home secretary, Priti Patel announced fresh measures to address the ‘problem’ which many have argued are both unnecessary and unworkable.  Immigrants in all forms are seen as a problem despite the many studies showing that they are net benefit to the country.  Many aspects of our society would almost cease to function without their contributions: the NHS would have to scale down drastically; horticulture and agriculture would suffer, food preparation would almost come to a standstill. 

Other countries have problems that dwarf ours – Turkey, Jordan and Greece for example have millions between them.  The number of asylum cases has diminished since 2002, but the government, stoked up by a fairly relentless right wing media campaign of stories real and imagined, has acted in a relentless hostile fashion.  The Home Office has become a byword for inefficiency, harsh decisions and aggressive actions of which the Windrush scandal is just one example. 

The Southampton Amnesty group invited Caroline Nokes MP to speak and this is a note of her talk to them. 

Caroline Nokes MP left the Home Office, vowing never to speak of immigration again.  But after a year her anger at the direction immigration was taking drove her to take action which she set out in a recent article in the Independent Newspaper.  A number of AI members from the Romsey and Southampton Groups had read this article and as a result invited Caroline to a joint virtual meeting.  At the meeting on the 4th March, Caroline gave a frank exposition of her views of the Home Office’s current approach, a summary of which is outlined below.  This article has been read by Caroline and its accuracy confirmed.

Home Office’s Attitude/Approach to immigration

This is very dependent on the attitude/approach of the Home Secretary.  Caroline felt that when Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd had been Home Secretary they were determined to learn the lessons of Windrush and give the Home Office a more “human face”.  More recently, the HO appears not to have made progress on this initiative, and asylum claims in particular seen as “work in progress” not people.  She expressed her concerns about the lack of resources given to the asylum system and that staff were junior.

Determinations

Decisions about whether or not to grant refugee status take far too long.  The target is 6 months, but the reality is closer to several years.  The system does not work well and is poorly served by ineffective lawyers.  She had recently heard young applicants complain about the interpreters available to them, as the issue is not just about language but also “style”.  In Caroline’s view, the system at the moment is too black and white.  No account seems to be taken at this stage that it is possible further documentation may become available.  The only way to consider additional information is via appeals, which prolongs the process.  A system needs to be developed which takes into account the difficulty of getting all the documents together, the trauma that the asylum seeker may be going through and the need for keeping to a six-month limit as far as possible.

Right to work

In her view the right to work would not need to change if the determinations met the points raised above.  She felt that this would be preferable to allowing asylum seekers to work which would cause complications with the benefits system.

Accommodation:

She did not think ex-army barracks were a good option, but were better than the “pop-up” camp being proposed at Barton Stacey*.  The Barton Stacey proposal for 500 asylum seekers in cabins has shown a complete disregard for planning rules. There would be no facilities, all resources would have to brought in, including water, and waste would have to be removed by tankers.  All power would need to be provided by noisy generators.  There are no specific health facilities, it is close to a very busy dual carriageway and close to an army range with the sound of gun fire!  There has been no discussion with local experts such as the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group.

A motivation for the HO proposing such camps appears to be about making an unattractive destination for asylum seekers.  However, Caroline pointed out that this would be unlikely to happen as there are three factors which makes the UK an attractive destination for asylum seekers i.e. the language, family ties and the fact that the UK still has a positive reputation internationally.

Future

Caroline was asked how she saw the future as far as this area was concerned.  She said she was concerned at the narrative around migration/asylum, which certainly in sections of the tabloid media contained a vein of racism.  For example, Nigel Farage had claimed recently that a boat full of immigrants had arrived in the UK all of them Covid 19 positive. This was not true!  It was clear Ministers believed the country was on their side when they talked tough about changing the asylum system.

She was very clear that she did not feel the Dubs amendment would pass if it was brought back.

The HO has promised to bring forward a new asylum bill.  The HO appears to have two main reasons why they want to do this.  Firstly they believe the current system is broken and in particular there are too many appeals.  Secondly, since we left the EU the Dublin agreement no longer applies to the UK.  Caroline believes it is indeed broken because determinations take far too long. 

What can be done to ensure a more humane asylum system

The first point Caroline made was that asylum applications in this country were very small approximately 40,000 per year compared to say Germany with upwards of 100,000 per annum.  We need to lobby our MPs write to local press and show that not everyone buys into the negative narrative.

Caroline referred to one positive move that was taking place in Westminster under the Chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham called RAMP.  It is a cross party project.  We must learn the lessons of Windrush and change the negative narrative.

*Barton Stacey is a village north of Winchester and not far from Andover in the UK. 

We are grateful to the Southampton Amnesty group for sending us this text.


Dangerous new bill proposed by the government

The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society.  It’s a right we have fought long and hard for.  Without the right to protest, accountability and freedom suffers.

A New Policing Bill

The Government’s new policing Bill gets the balance dangerously wrong.  Such an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers will put too much power in the hands of the state, to effectively ban protests – including peaceful ones – should they see fit.

Vigil for Sarah Everard

Worse still, this Bill alongside other efforts by the UK Government to threaten and dilute other fundamental rights and freedoms.  The claims of excessive force used by Metropolitan police against women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard on 13 March, beggars belief, and is a stark and timely warning about precisely why Parliament must not grant police further powers to stop peaceful protest.

Racism and discrimination

As well as preventing peaceful protest, sections of this Bill will most likely disproportionately impact  people who are in the minority and increase the racism and discrimination that is experienced by many of them.  For example, measures to enhance stop & search and restrict the right to roam, precisely at a time when the UK Government should be working to address these issues.

This is not the path to a free and just society.  This is the path to a clampdown on our centuries old rights of freedom of movement, expression and assembly.  This is entirely incompatible with the UK’s self-image as a place of liberty.

We cannot allow this clampdown to happen.  Take action and call on our Prime Minister to put the brakes on the Bill and stop the assault on our freedoms.

Text taken from Amnesty International


We decided to reconvene via Zoom for a group meeting in March 2021 and ended up having a great deal to talk about. The minutes of that meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for writing them up. The group will be taking a great interest in the forthcoming debate in parliament where it looks as though the government will be using the cover of Covid to limit the right to demonstrate and to give the police and Home Secretary greater powers to limit such demonstrations. We are also keeping a watching brief over the plans to alter the Human Rights Act, promised in several Conservative manifestos.

We were pleased to welcome a new member. New members welcome of course and leaving a message here or on Facebook is the best way.

March minutes (Word)


North Korean defector stands for election in Manchester

The remarkable story of Ji-Hyun Park has become even more remarkable with the news that she is to

Jihyun Park. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

stand for election in Bury, Manchester.  It is believed she is the first person on North Korean descent to stand for local elections in the UK.

Hyun Park came to Salisbury four years ago and gave a moving talk on her escape from North Korea and an equally terrible existence in China.  An account of that talk can be found on this link.

BBC report can be read hereThere is also a longer report in the Daily Mail.

She was given a bravery award by Amnesty International last year.

The Amnesty group discussed this at their monthly meeting and were delighted to hear the news.


Review of the year: March 2020 to February 2021

 International Events

Note: The list below highlights some of the significant events of the year.  Full monthly reports remain available on this website.

  • In March the Supreme Court ruled that the UK Government had acted unlawfully in providing, or agreeing to provide, material to the US in respect of Shafee El Sheikh and Alexanda Kotey without seeking assurances the death penalty would not be imposed.
  • In June, William Ogrod, who had been on death row in Pennsylvania for 23 years, had his conviction overturned and was freed.
  • In October the Pope issued an Encyclical, teaching that the death penalty was in all circumstances inadmissible.
  • 13 Federal Executions took place in the course of the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
  • The new President, Joe Biden, is committed to the abolition of the death penalty.
  • Virginia is shortly to become the first State in the former Confederacy to abolish the DP.

 Local Group Campaigns

In April a Royal decree was issued in Saudi Arabia, ending the death penalty for minors.  Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher have had their sentences commuted to 10 years in prison.

Group Events

 World Day Against the Death Penalty – 10th October

  • The Group and Supporters were asked to take email action on behalf of Hoo Yew Wha – the young man in Malaysia sentenced to death for possession of drugs.
  • A link was made available to an AIUK Virtual Discussion on the Death Penalty
  • The film ‘Just Mercy’ was shown at the Salisbury Playhouse on 4th November in partnership with Wiltshire Creative.  This was the last event to take place at the theatre prior to the commencement of Lockdown, and was well attended.

 Urgent Actions – April 20 – Feb 21

 Note: Some of these actions were for more than one person; some were update/follow-up actions.

 36 UA’s

  • US 11
  • Saudi Arabia             6
  • Iran   6
  • Bahrain   3
  • Belarus 3*
  • Nigeria   2
  • India   2
  • Malaysia   1
  • Yemen 1
  • Egypt   1

 

*The abolition of the death penalty in Belarus is a focus of this year’s  Amnesty Anti-Death Penalty Project’s campaign.

 

 

 


We attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in assembling it.

Report (Word)


Meeting via Zoom

TONIGHT!

After an absence of a year, the group is to hold a meeting on Zoom next Thursday, 11th March at 7:30 pm.  It will mostly be a working meeting but any local supporter is welcome to join.  If you would like to, leave a message here or via Facebook or contact one of us.


Physicians for Human Rights website added to the list of sites (at the bottom of the page)