Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


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


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 was 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

 

 


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

 

 

 


A 27 year old woman in Tunisia may be imprisoned for a Facebook joke

Emna Chargui shared a Facebook post that she found on social media of a humorous text that imitates the verses of Quran to make fun of the COVID-19 situation. The text is void of any incitement to hatred or violence. It is intended to be funny and it even includes a call for staying home and washing hands. Emna now faces up to three years in prison for this post. The Court of First Instance in Tunis charged her with inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence.

Further details of this and how to take action can be found on the Ammesty site or here.

 

 

 

 

 

Kris Maharaj

Posted: April 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

Kris Maharaj in mortal danger

Kris is the 81-year-old British man unjustly locked up in a Florida prison. Originally sentenced to death, he’s been there for 33 years.  He is separated from his loving wife Marita and he is in poor health without access to vital care.  He is now at risk of contracting Covid-19 because others in his vicinity are infected.  Reprieve is asking people to write to the governor of Florida and the appeal can be accessed off their site.

If you spare a few moments to help this man, it would be appreciated.


Credible evidence of prisoners killed during Covid-19 concerns

Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.  The full story can be read on Amnesty’s site:

Prisoner deaths: Iran

The situation in Iran is grave and the government has relaxed social distancing rules and travel restrictions in a move that could be disasterous.  The country is reeling from the continued US sanctions.

 


Appointment of Sir Keir Starmer is an encouraging development for human rights

In previous posts, we have noted the campaign by some members of the Conservative government and  some parts of the press, against the Human Rights Act and the desire to abolish it.  The election of Sir Keir Starmer as opposition leader is an encouraging development therefore.

Sir Keir Starmer, the new Leader of the Opposition is, famously, a barrister.  He was also, famously, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a man who decided what charges should be brought and against whom. So what should we expect from a party led by someone deeply involved in human rights questions at a time when rights are under enormous pressure, not just globally but also in this country?

Once the coronavirus episode is over and normal(ish) political business returns, one of the first matters to be considered will be the increased power the government has accrued during the emergency, and what to do about it in the future.  The Labour Party has supported the emergency powers for the next 6 months, but will clearly need to review this at an early opportunity. Starmer has not expressed a view as yet, but we know that much of his previous work has been in defence of persons threatened by an overweening state.

Starmer’s career was built on work in the human rights and civil liberties field, notably in cases like the McLibel affair (environmentalists sued by McDonald’s over claims made in a factsheet) and East African and Caribbean death penalty cases.  He was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007 by the Chambers & Partners directory and in 2005 he won the Bar Council’s Sydney Elland Goldsmith award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work in challenging the death penalty throughout the Caribbean and also in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.  From 2003 to 2008, Starmer was the human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland.

Now we have (more or less) left the EU, extremists within the government may well want to detach us from the European Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU, remember), as well as rescinding the Human Rights Act.  Starmer has publicly defended the ECHR in debate (see The Lawyer 15/9/15).  In his Blackstone Lecture of 2015, he refuted the arguments against the existing HRA in considerable detail.  He has also written text books on the HRA, so is fully versed in the minutiae.

Martin Kettle has noted the change in outlook on human rights within the legal profession following the Act (see Prospect Magazine Feb 2020), and Starmer’s position at the forefront of this change.  With a liberal judiciary under pressure at the moment, his support may be important in the coming period.  Starmer will face attacks from left and right, but will be used to that.

It is notable that the Daily Mail is already leading the charge against the new man, tarring Starmer as a defender of IRA bombers (but then the Mail’s grasp of what lawyers actually do has always been rather tenuous).  The tabloid press are, of course, hostile to Starmer anyway since his decision as DPP to prosecute them over phone-hacking.

From the left, he has been criticised for – during his time as DPP – not pursuing the prosecution of the police officers accused of killing Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson (although in the latter case, he changed his mind in 2011 when new evidence came to light).  Also, he announced that MI5 and MI6 agents would not face charges of torture and extraordinary rendition during the Iraq War, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, as James A Smith has pointed out in the Indy (9/1/20).

Sir Keir has given a clue as to his approach by appointing as his chief legal colleague on the front bench, David Lammy, while Lisa Nandy will be at foreign affairs, both of them with good records on human rights issues.  Lammy has been leading in parliament on the Windrush scandal, while Nandy has been strongly supportive of making businesses report on the human rights impacts of their operations.

 


The SW Regional conference was held in Exeter on Saturday 7 March 2020

Four members of the Salisbury group attended the regional conference in Exeter yesterday, a truly

Some members in front of Exeter Cathedral

uplifting event.  We had four excellent speakers and we had a photo opportunity in front of the cathedral.

With all the talk from the current government, echoed in large parts of the press, of getting rid of the Human Rights Act and their desire to pull away from the ECHR, it was good to be among people who believe in the importance of these rights.  They are not there to help terrorists go free and to help hardened criminals escape justice which is the common refrain now, but to protect all of us in our everyday lives.  This is especially so as we do not have a constitution.

But one of the high spots was a young woman, Geraldine Chacón (below right) from Venezuela who is a human rights defender who was arrested by around 10 armed men and spent 4 months in prison before being released.  She has not been tried however so can be arrested again if and when she goes back.  The rights we take for granted were denied her.  No warrant for her arrest; no access to a lawyer; constant interrogations; never brought before a judge; no access to her family, particularly her mother who came every day but was not allowed to see her; and no charges brought. She was labelled a terrorist and her release was used to present the government in a positive light ‘look, we’re releasing terrorists’.  Calling anyone a ‘terrorist’ is the standard claim by nearly all authoritarian regimes for people who campaign for democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The two speakers from south America

She became an Amnesty ‘prisoner of conscience’ POC case and thousands of letters were written.  She said they made a difference.  She was feeling vulnerable and abandoned she said and the letters made her realise ‘you are not alone’.  The letters ‘made me brave because I knew I had you with me’.  She only knew there were letters as news of them had to be smuggled in: she was allowed no correspondence directly.  It was a very uplifting talk.  In all this denigration of human rights by sections of our media and some of our politicians, it was good to know the basic business of Amnesty’s work, did and does make a difference.

One of the other speakers was Laíze Benevides Pinheiro from Brazil (left).  She spoke of her work in Brazil and the threat and risk from the most dangerous police in the world.  In 2019, they killed 1810 young men most of whom were black.  The murder of Mariella Franco has polarised opinion but she said a network had been created to help people who were the victims of violence.

There was another talk on climate and its link to human rights which may be the subject of a future post.  Kate Allen (Director of Amnesty) also spoke about the future direction of Amnesty and the worries about the attitudes towards human rights by some in the current government.  This is a worry expressed on this site in previous posts.

A really worthwhile day and congratulations to the Exeter Amnesty group for organising it so well.


There will be an Evensong this Thursday 12 March starting at 5:30 in the Cathedral.

 

 


The minutes of the February group meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  They contain details of our activities and forthcoming events.  These are listed towards the end and are a good opportunity for someone thinking of joining to come along and make yourself known.

February minutes (Word)


Firm based in Porton accused of selling spy equipment to harsh regimes

Considerable interest has been aroused in the last month or so concerning the use of Huawei technology to provide 5G connectivity in the UK.  Other countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ group – USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – will not use this equipment because of fears of intrusion by the Chinese state.  The worry is that the Chinese will gain a backdoor entry into our messages, emails and the like thus compromising our security.  For weeks, the issue has been discussed and could well have repercussions as far as our relationship with the Americans is concerned.

It was not that long ago that the UK and USA were revealed to be invading people’s messages on an industrial scale via the Prism and Tempora programmes.  21 petabytes of data are downloaded a day and there is huge process involved in sifting and selecting the messages which have been intercepted.  It therefore seems inconsistent to be worrying about Chinese intrusion when our own governments are heavily involved in doing the same thing.  The difference is one is our own people and the others are Chinese.  It is claimed that only metadata is collected by GCHQ.

The UK government sponsors an exhibition of security equipment at an event called Security and Policing held at Farnborough.  It is a similar exhibition to DSEI which takes place in London – also supported by the UK government – where arms firms exhibit their wares.  The guest list of both events reveal a range of authoritarian regimes as customers keen to get access to weapons and security equipment with which to maintain their hold on power.  Huawei has achieved considerable publicity for something they claim does not and will not happen while, by contrast, surveillance which is happening receives almost no coverage at all.

What do we mean by … ?

Of course, a lot depends on what we mean by ‘police’ and ‘security’.  Police forces around the world need equipment with which to tackle organised crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and the like.  Countries might legitimately need equipment to intercept and interdict attempts to commit terrorist offences or attack their citizens.  The difference occurs when this equipment is used to silence critics of the regime, arrest and mistreat them or cause them to disappear.  If people who are peacefully protesting, seeking democracy, acting as human rights defenders or pursuing human rights, have their communications, emails and computers intercepted and compromised using UK manufactured kit then it can be argued this is wrong.  The government goes to great lengths to keep this activity confidential running the only closed event in the country, suggesting it knows that it is potentially damaging.  A member of the parliamentary Arms Export Committee, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was barred from entering the 2019 exhibition which he said was deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, here in Salisbury …

In the village of Porton, just outside Salisbury – the same village as in Porton Down – is a firm, Gamma TSE which makes this equipment Finfisher and the aptly called Finspy.  What it does was hard to discover exactly but thanks to Wikileaks, details of its equipment are available for all to see.  A pdf which provides comprehensive details of the firm’s spying capabilities to covertly extract data from a computer system, bypass password protection and obtain information from a bank are all described in great detail.  Examples of its extensive interception capabilities are described in information sheets:

The FinIntrusion Kit was used to break the WPA encryption of a Target’s home Wireless network and then monitor his Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, …) and Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, …) credentials, which enabled the investigators to remotely monitor these accounts from Headquarters without the need to be close to the Target.

Several customers used the FinIntrusion Kit to successfully compromise the security of networks and computer systems for offensive and defensive purposes using various Tools and Techniques.

The password ‘sniffer’ is described thus:

LAN/WLAN Active Password Sniffer
Captures even SSL-encrypted data like Webmail, Video Portals, Online-Banking and more.

It’s ability to gain access remotely:

Usage Example 1: Covert Operation
A source in an Organized Crime Group (OCG) was given a FinUSB Dongle that secretly extracted Account Credentials of Web and Email accounts and Microsoft Office documents from the Target Systems, while the OCG used the USB device to exchange regular files like Music, Video and Office Documents.

After returning the USB device to Headquarters the gathered data could be decrypted, analysed and used to constantly monitor the group remotely.

A worrying feature is the ability of Finspy to operate around the world:

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world for many years, and valuable intelligence has been gathered about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system it can be remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.  [our italics]

Since many dissidents or people in opposition to a particular regime have fled to Europe including the UK, it leaves open the question of whether this equipment is being used to monitor people now living in the UK.  This was a point made by Privacy International.

The firm also offers training and the list of courses tell their own chilling story:

Sample Course Subjects

· Profiling of Target Websites and Persons

· Tracing anonymous Emails

· Remote access to Webmail Accounts

· Security Assessment of Web-Servers & Web-Services

· Practical Software Exploitation

· Wireless IT Intrusion (WLAN/802.11 and Bluetooth)

· Attacks on critical Infrastructures

· Sniffing Data and User Credentials of Networks

· Monitoring Hot-Spots, Internet Cafés and Hotel Networks

· Intercepting and Recording Calls (VoIP and DECT)

· Cracking Password Hashes

The literature refers several times to ‘organised crime groups’ and this equipment is likely to be of value to police forces acting to stop such activity in their country.  The problem is that countries like Bahrain are likely to use these methods against democracy and human rights campaigners.

Implications

The law firm Leigh Day in London launched a claim in 2019 on behalf of four Bahraini nationals who had been targeted using information obtained using this technology.  Privacy International identified Gamma as having sold this technology to Bahrain:

In 2012, Citizen Lab, a think-tank operating out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, came across evidence suggesting that Gamma International, a multinational technology corporation with offices across the world, sold a form of malware called FinFisher to Bahrain. Bahraini activists, amongst others, were seriously concerned: FinFisher gives its operator complete access to a target’s computer and mobile phone. That kind of technology in the hands of a state like Bahrain, with its record of human rights abuse, would put at risk a great many people’s lives.

Gamma emphatically denied selling this kit to Bahrain.  However, documents subsequently discovered provided evidence that they had already done so.   The cruel treatment of these elderly individuals is described in an Amnesty report and includes the denial of medical treatment and medication.  A solicitor acting for Gamma says there is no evidence of the firm being involved in human rights abuses and they will defend the claim being made against them.

Gamma are not the only firm selling this equipment.  The UK government has been, and is planning to again, to run the secretive exhibition keeping close control over who attends and keeping anyone away who might question its ethics.  The UK government has made no comment on the actions of the Bahraini authorities, or the allegations of Gamma’s alleged involvement.  If the surveillance by the Bahraini authorities is carried out on computers located within the UK, it is unlawful.

It appears to be a worrying sign of increasing indifference by the UK government of the effects on ordinary people living under oppressive regimes who suffer from the use of arms and surveillance equipment supplied by firms based here in the Britain.  It is inconceivable that GCHQ is unaware of what this firm is doing and its client list around the world which includes several of these regimes.  This indifference is damaging to our reputation and parliamentarians should be asking searching questions of the minister.  The British government has many relationships with the Bahraini royal family.  The Queen and other members of the royal household meet quite regularly.  Today, (10 February 2020) it was reported that Liam Fox met the Bahraini crown prince to lobby on behalf of Petrofac, the owner of which is a major Conservative party donor (£800,000).  It seems quite clear that trade considerations trump human rights issues in government thinking.

Sources:  Amnesty International; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Citizen’s Lab (Canada); WikiLeaks; Gamma; VICE; the Guardian; Privacy International


If you want to join the Salisbury group you would be most welcome.  We meet every second Thursday (except August) in Victoria Road at 7:30.  Otherwise keep an eye on this site, on Facebook or Twitter and make yourself known at one our events.