Archive for December, 2021


The Supreme Court in Moscow today (Tuesday, 28 December 2021) ordered the closure of the human rights group Memorial is a move which is seen as another step in the route to greater authoritarianism by President Putin in Russia. The group fell foul of the ‘foreign agent’ law, a law passed in 2016 to make life difficult for human rights groups to operate in the country. The prosecution accused the group of ‘creating a false image of USSR as a terrorist state’. Memorial sought to shed light on the horrors of the Stalin era when millions died in a vast network of gulags.

Amnesty International described the decision as ‘a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag’. With suppression of opposition parties – Navalny is imprisoned for example – and the intimidation or murder of journalists, Russia is living up to its sobriquet of a ‘gangster state’.


May we wish all our supporters, readers and followers a happy Christmas and a happy New Year. We have had an increase in readership to this site this year which is very gratifying although sadly, we seldom get much in the way of interaction. Human rights are increasingly important and the local group will be focusing on the threat to the UK Human Rights Act which the government would like to see neutered in various ways. We are also concerned about the bills the government is pushing through to limit protest and to reduce the powers of the courts to hold the government to account.

We have welcomed several new members this year and it is a shame that we cannot meet in person more often because of Covid.


The group carried out its annual carol singing around a selection of streets in Salisbury on Monday. The actual carols were sung by the excellent Farrant Singers who split into two groups. Because of Covid we could not enter the host’s house for soup and cheese which in previous years has been an enjoyable end to the evening. We are grateful as ever for the support of the Farrants and the residents many of whom gave generously to Amnesty. We are also grateful to group member Chantal for providing the hospitality.


Dr. Osama Yassin is a paediatrician – but right now, he is sitting on death row in Egypt – where there is human rights crisis. 

He was arrested in 2013 and has been in solitary confinement since – often denied food and water. He was sentenced to death alongside 11 other men in a mass trial of 739 people and faces imminent execution. 

No specific evidence was introduced against Dr Osama in his trial.

This is reproduced from a message from Reprieve. If you can add your name to their petition that would be wonderful. You can access it here.


The Justice Secretary announces sweeping changes to the act

It has been a long term ambition of some Conservative politicians to either abolish or seriously curtail the HRA.  In 2006 David Cameron said he wanted to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, wrote a book The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights which we earlier reviewed, which set out his arguments.  We suggested there that the reasoning was flawed, feeble and far from historically accurate. Along with three other members of the current cabinet, he contributed to Britannia Unchanged with its much quoted derogatory remarks about British workers who were alleged to be the laziest in the world.  There is footage of him saying ‘I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights’. 

The Conservative position has received much support in the right wing and tabloid press.  Articles regularly appear which assert the act is used to give succour to terrorists, foreign criminals and – most famously – reporting Theresa May’s claim that it was a cat which stood in the way of the deportation of a Chilean national.  It wasn’t.  Some of the stories are gross exaggerations.  Raab even quotes the story of a man in a siege demanding a Kentucky fried chicken because it was his ‘human right’ despite admitting it was not the reason: it was just normal police practice to help defuse a tense situation. 

The many benefits the act has brought to the lives of ordinary people are rarely mentioned.  Even when, in cases like the Hillsborough disaster, or the events at Deepcut, the act was central to securing justice for the families of those who died, that role is omitted from the coverage.  The act has been used in countless cases to secure rights for individuals in their relations with government agencies and local authorities.  Its provisions are built into every day provisions in those organisation’s activities.

 Review

In December last year the government established a review of the HRA and this was published on 14 December 2021.  In short, the Review does not call for substantial changes to the act and argues that it is a good piece of legislation.  The ‘vast majority of submissions [were] in support of HRA’ and they argue that ‘more needs to be done to dispose of the negative perceptions of the HRA (paragraph 14).  They go on to argue for a ‘stronger focus on civic, constitutional education on the HRA and rights more generally’ (15). 

They discuss the ‘margin of appreciation’ that is the degree of subsidiarity and the degree of latitude we have to interpret the law and conclude there is no need to change the current arrangements (26).  They were struck by ‘a high level regard in which the UK Courts and Judiciary are held by the ECtHR and the beneficial influence this has, both domestically and for the European Court’ (35). 

It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on

The Justice Minister announced sweeping changes to the HRA in a statement before the Review was published.  The changes will counter ‘wokery and political correctness’ he claimed.  It is difficult to reconcile the results of the Review with the statement by Mr Raab of the need for radical reform.  It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on.  

If we take into account the other bills before parliament: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and the Judicial Review and Courts bill, they represent, together, a serious attack on our liberties.  The ability of ordinary people to assert their rights, to protest or to correct injustice done to them will be seriously curtailed.  There is also a proposal to introduce a ‘permissions stage’ before someone can argue their case in court.  The right to a family life (art 8) may be removed altogether.  As the chief executive of Amnesty International has argued ‘if ministers move ahead with plans to water down the HRA and override judgements with which they disagree they risk aligning themselves with authoritarian regimes around the world’.  

In the last few months, we have seen serious failings by those who are meant to look after us. Serious police shortcomings and allegations of institutional racism have been made. The abysmally low level of rape cases which result in successful prosecutions. Serious failings in childcare with the tragic deaths of some small children. There have been failings within government too numerous to itemise. Far from a reduction in the means of redress, we need an increase. Yet the government seems determined to curtail our rights based on false assumptions and a desire for populist support.

It is likely the Salisbury group will be focusing on these assaults in its future campaigning.


At last we are to see what is proposed in a review of the HRA which several in the Conservative Party wish to see changed. The group is likely to campaign against the changes if, as seems likely, they weaken protections that the act presently provides. Taken with other bills currently going through parliament, they represent a serious attack on our liberties and echo actions by authoritarian regimes around the world.

For now, it might be worth highlighting our post on Dominic Raab MP, the Justice Secretary who is one of the proponents of the changes.


Abdullah was 14 years old when he was abducted by Saudi Arabian authorities in 2017. He was tortured until he ‘confessed’ to crimes he couldn’t have committed. He has several alibis—he was at the seafront 200 km away, playing football with his friends, at the time of the alleged crime.

Abdullah’s conviction was overturned in November 2021. This should be good news, but under Saudi Arabian law there must now be a retrial. That’s why we can’t stop fighting now. 

Saudi Arabian authorities say that they ended the use of the death penalty for child defendants in April 2020. But this is clearly a lie—Abdullah is a child defendant. We’re holding them accountable and making sure the death penalty and his so-called ‘confession’ are off the table. 

Thousands of us in the Reprieve community are helping build a huge swell of public attention and demanding that UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss steps in to protect Abdullah. Will you help too?

If you would like to take part follow this link to the Traidcraft site.

December minutes

Posted: December 12, 2021 in Group news
Tags: , ,

We are pleased to attach the minutes of the December 2021 meeting (via Zoom) thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

The minutes give details of our forthcoming events and these are an opportunity for people thinking of joining to make contact.


Report finds that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is genocide

The word ‘genocide’ has entered the language and we use it today to describe attacks by governments on entire communities usually for reasons of race or religion. It is sometimes surprising to some to discover that it is in fact quite a new word invented in 1944 by Rafael Lemkin. He used it to describe the Nazi’s programme of seeking to exterminate the Jews. Further background to the tussles to get the word accepted is described in Phillippe Sands’ book East West Street (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016). The victors after the war were keen to set up a system to try and prevent those terrible events from happening again including the Genocide Convention of 1948 agreed only four years after Lemkin first coined the word.

Genocide has not disappeared in the world today and the worst example currently is the programme being carried out by the Chinese against the Uyghur people. A report has recently been published which – although having no official standing – has looked thoroughly into the treatment of the Uyghurs and concludes that ‘efforts to prevent births amounted to genocidal intent.’ Uyghur women are having their wombs removed and babies are often killed after being born.

The Chinese treatment of the has been horrific and that it should be taking place in the modern age is deeply depressing. China can use its veto power to prevent action by the International Criminal Court. In addition to the suppression of births the report describes ‘unconscionable crimes’ against the Uyghur people. These include physical violence, sexual abuse including penetration by electric shock rods or iron bars, holding people up to their necks in cold water for prolonged periods of time and the use of heavy shackles sometimes for months at a time. Face recognition technology is used on an extensive scale making communities effectively open prisons.

As many as a million are in held re-education establishments where they are forced to learn Chinese. If caught speaking their own language they are severely beaten. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghur children have been removed from their families and placed in Han speaking homes. Mosques have been destroyed and graves bulldozed. Travel to the region is tightly restricted.

It is a catalogue of depravity of truly shocking extent. The Chinese deny any of this is taking place but the weight of evidence is too great to dismiss. The scale and extent of the persecution must have received authority at the highest level. Although, unlike the Nazis, there is no programme of mass killing, the programme does represent a deliberate programme to eliminate the culture, history and language of these people.

The UK government has so far declined to call the programme genocide.


The second of our Write for Rights this year took place today, Saturday 11 December in St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury starting at 10 am for 2 hours. As before the cases were be:

Mikita Zalatarou of Belarus. He is a teenager who has been sent to a penal colony following protests at the recent elections.
Zhang Zhan of China. She is one of the journalists who tried to get the truth out about the Covid virus in Wuhan. She was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
Ciham ali Ahmed of Eritrea. She was arrested on the Sudan border and nine years later her family do not know her whereabouts. Many prisoners are held in underground containers.
Bernardo Caal Xol in Guatamala. He was caught up in the protests against the construction of hydroelectric dams which would have seriously harmed the indigenous peoples. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison with no evidence provided.

These of course are just a small selection of the thousands of people who are imprisoned for reasons of the beliefs they hold, opposition to the government or because they are human rights defenders, journalists or lawyers. If you can spare a moment or two to pop in we would be delighted to see you.

It would also be an opportunity to make yourself known if you wish to join the group.