We are delighted to report that after a long campaign by Amnesty, Reprieve and other organisations, Ali al Nimr has been released from prison in Saudi Arabia. It can sometimes feel that campaigning for the release of people held for their beliefs or opposition to the government is a lost cause. This shows that it can sometimes work and the full story and background can be seen here in a statement by Reprieve.
MP murdered while holding a surgery
A key part of our democracy is the ability of individuals to make contact with their member of parliament and this is usually done in a surgery which can be in a number of settings. People sometimes forget that the system has improved in recent times and the days when MPs were seldom seen in their constituencies has long gone. The great majority of MPs have regular meetings in their constituencies with organisations of varying kinds as well as with individual constituents.
The recent murder of Sir David Amess was a huge shock. The Salisbury group has only recently met our MP, Mr John Glen, to express our concerns – along with over a hundred other organisations – about a series of bills currently before parliament which we believe will seriously inhibit our human rights. The chair of our group wrote a letter to the Salisbury Journal published on 21 October 2021 thus:
Following the tragic death of Sir David Amess last week, I am writing to say how much we value the tradition of MPs’ surgeries.
My group had a meeting with John Glen earlier this month, where we were able to exchange views on current [proposed] legislation in a respectful way; while we had our disagreements, we took note of each other’s views and departed amicably. It is vital that this kind of relationship continues between us and our representatives, and it would be a sad day indeed if restrictions on this process were deemed necessary.
We would urge parliament and the government to do everything they can to keep local surgeries going even with whatever enhanced security may be appropriate to protect the lives of our elected MPsAndrew Hemming, Chair, Salisbury Amnesty International
Attached are the group minutes of the meeting held on 14 October thanks to group member Fiona for preparing them. A full meeting and there is a note of our meeting with the MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen. The meeting was successful and our three representatives pointed out the many misgivings people have over the proposed legislation. Over 200 organisations – including Amnesty – are very concerned at three major bills currently before parliament which singly and together will have a major impact on our human rights. There is also the review of the Human Rights Act the results of which are awaited any time.
Arman Abdolali was due to be executed today but it has now been scheduled for Saturday. We ask that you spend a few moments to send a message to the Iranian Embassy to ask them not to do this. Full details are in the link below.
Arman was just 17 when he was arrested. He was held in solitary confinement and beaten regularly, before “confessing”. He says this “confessions” was obtained under torture and there are serious concerns about his trial.
We are pleased to attach this month’s DP report thanks to group member Lesley for her work in compiling this. A mixture of news as ever with the situation in the USA becoming more troubling in some states. France’s action in trying to achieve a world wide ban is encouraging. As ever there is no information from China where executions are a state secret and are believed to be the worst in the world.
World Day Against Death Penalty
The death penalty in Ghana has been frequently used in violation of international law and standards, affecting predominantly those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, as shown by research carried out by Amnesty International. It is high time the authorities of Ghana acted to fully abolish it.
In Ghana the death penalty has been imposed mainly as the mandatory punishment for murder, meaning that judges were unable to consider any mitigating factors relating to the case, the circumstances of the offence or the background of the defendants at sentencing, when they imposed the death penalty. This has meant, for example, that some women on death row could not have their experience of being subjected to prolonged domestic violence at the hands of their husbands or partners taken into account when they were convicted of their murders.
The widespread concerns on the lack of effective legal representation and appeals described by many on death row is also greatly alarming, including as these are critical safeguards to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty and avoid miscarriage of justice. Around three-quarters of the 107 people on death row interviewed by Amnesty International in preparing its 2017 report, had a state-appointed lawyer at trial level, with only around 15% able to hire a lawyer of their choice with help from their families. Three men stated they did not have any legal representation during their initial trial; of the three women on death row at the time of the interviews, two said they did not have a trial lawyer. Several others said that their lawyers had not attended all the hearings; and many said that they did not have a chance to talk to their lawyer and prepare their defence during trial.
As appeals are not mandatory in Ghana, the majority of those on death row told Amnesty International that they had been unable to appeal their convictions and death sentences. Most did not fully understand their right to appeal or how to pursue this process, and believed they needed to have sufficient money to hire a private lawyer in order to appeal. Figures provided by the Ghana Prison Service (the Prison Service) in March 2017 indicated that only 12 prisoners on death row had filed appeals since 2006. None of the three women on death row had been able to file an appeal due to lack of money. One woman told Amnesty International that at the time a lawyer asked for 60 million Old Ghana Cedi (more than US$12,000) to file an appeal.
It comes as no surprise that in a legal system with so few built-in safeguards those who end up carrying the burden of the death penalty have disadvantaged backgrounds. The majority of the 107 people interviewed came from outside of the greater Accra region, had minimal educational levels and were from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, with children left in the care of others. Against international safeguards, six people on death row at Nsawam Prison were considered to have mental (psychosocial) or intellectual disabilities and were not supported through specialized care.
Conditions for men and women on death row do not meet international standards. Both men and women reported overcrowding, poor sanitary facilities, isolation, and lack of adequate access to medical care and to recreational or educational opportunities available to other people in detention. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.
This post is reproduced from Amnesty
Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty
This Amnesty report highlights the effects of the penalty on women
The use of death penalty has further impacts on women relatives and supporters of those on death row, as existing structural socio-economic inequalities, stigmatization and discrimination have been deepened by the sentencing to death of their loved ones. The campaigning briefing highlights some of the prevailing human rights concerns associated with the impact of the death penalty on women and calls for action to end the injustice and arbitrariness of the death penalty. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International is a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which coordinates this global day of activism against the death penalty every 10 October.
Available as a podcast
The next meeting will be on Thursday 14 October starting at the earlier time of 6:30 (please note) and will be in Attwood Road (just off Castle Road) in Salisbury. There will be lots to discuss and in particular a report from three group members who had a long meeting with Mr Glen (MP for Salisbury) to express our – and over a hundred other organisations’ concerns – about a raft of legislation currently before parliament. Mr Glen has promised to reply so that will feature in a future post.
We hope to welcome some new members who came to our stand at the People in the park event a few weekends ago.
The news today of the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United is condemned by Amnesty
It was announced today (7 October 2021) that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has agreed a £300m takeover of Newcastle United Football Club. This has resurrected the argument about ‘Sportswash’ and countries with poor human rights records using sport to try and create a better image for themselves. Saudi Arabia has a particularly dire human rights record with the routine use of torture, capital punishment often by primitive means and in public, the poor treatment of women and the silencing of opposition to the regime.
The takeover has been welcomed in Newcastle and it was suggested by a reporter in the City that the fans were jubilant as it will mean the end of Mike Ashley’s ownership and the poor record by the club in the league during his time. Newcastle Chronicle has considerable coverage and photos of large numbers of jubilant fans. The newspaper describes the atmosphere as ‘electric’. On Twitter a tweet said it was about ‘returning a sense of pride’.
Newcastle is not the only football club or sport to accept money from dubious regimes so it would be unfair to single them out. Saudi’s human rights record is particularly dubious however. The list is long and includes the likely murder and dismemberment by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi, the repression of dissidents and human rights defenders, several members of the royal family are still held incommunicado and there is no freedom of religion other than Islam.
Yemen is also a stain on the country with nearly 8,000 killed in air raids including 2,000 children. There is a blockade in place adding to the misery in the country.
Newcastle supporters can also claim that our own royal family and senior ministers have frequently visited the country and are on visible and seemingly good terms with Mohammed bin Salman. The UK is also a major supplier of weapons to the regime, despite evidence of the harm done in their use. To condemn the deal is, they might argue, hypocritical. The Saudis also own considerable real estate in London.
While all this is true, there is no escaping the reality of a terrible regime buying a famous football club to enable it to enhance its image in the world. Although the fans seem delighted with the decision, it remains the case that the money is tainted and from a particularly dire regime.
Action to take on 10 October
While in India for his wedding in November 2017, Jagtar Singh Johal, a British Sikh (pictured), was arrested and accused of involvement in terrorism and in the assassination of a number of Hindu leaders in the Punjab. He is alleged to have faced torture and been forced to sign blank statements and record a video. This ‘confession’ was broadcast on national television, where the political nature of his ‘crimes’ was stressed. He has had no actual trial but faces the death penalty.
Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says his brother was a peaceful activist and believes he was arrested because he had written about historical human rights violations against Sikhs in India. He has appealed to the British Government to seek his brother’s release and to bring him home.
In February of this year, almost 140 MPs wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, asking him to
seek Mr Johal’s release, and a debate was held in Parliament with calls for him to be declared a ‘victim of arbitrary detention. In June, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, wrote to Mr Raab, urging him to seek Mr Johal’s release. Gurpreet Singh Johal is grateful for her support, but believes direct intervention from the British Government is essential.
Mr Johal is supported by the organisations Reprieve and Redress. He has made numerous court appearances, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the prosecution and basic information denied to his defence counsel.
Mr Raab said he was doing all he could and had been in touch with the Indian authorities, but his response was criticised as ‘weak’. With the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary – Liz Truss – there is an opportunity to bring Mr Johal’s situation to her attention, and to call for a more positive and pro-active response.
Please write to:
Ms Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 0AA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
and ask her to intervene in Mr Johal’s case, and to secure his release and return home.
Please date your letter 10th October 2021, calling attention to the fact that it is the 19th World Day against the Death Penalty.