We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Includes mentions of Singapore, Iran, USA and elsewhere. Note as ever that China probably executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but details are a state secret.
Several fascinating discussions at the Lviv Book Forum organised by the Hay Festival. Serious debate about the role of oligarchs in British cultural and political life
If you missed the debates at the Lviv Book Forum you missed some of the best debates this year especially its focus on the role of Russian oligarchs and their dirty money in influencing British cultural and political life. Debates of this nature seldom make it into the open air in Britain, one reason being – as was explained – because of the effective lack of free speech in the UK arising from the punitive nature of our libel laws. Oligarchs and other wealthy individuals can launch what are termed SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) which effectively silence critics and frighten publishers and journalists. Costing millions to defend they exert a chilling effect in the UK and make Britain the libel capital of the world.
Why do Russians come to Britain and establish themselves here? This was a major part of the discussion because they are to be found in other parts of the world. There were a number of factors which made Britain particularly attractive it was explained. Firstly, English which was spoken internationally. Secondly, it was the no questions asked culture here: no one asked where the money came from and the agencies which were supposed to check on this kind of thing, looked the other way. Our private schools were another attraction as was easy access to and entry into, the political elite. Members of the Lords for example, were happy to sit on various boards of companies set up by the oligarchs. This easy access to the elite meant all sorts of powerful people were happy to attend parties where political influence took place. Fourthly, Oliver Bullough also spoke of the wide range of services offered in London for example, legal, financial and public relations. The ‘easy come, easy go’ culture combined to make London the key magnet for dirty money and illegal wealth.
One of the participants, Catherine Belton, spoke of the ease with which assets were acquired for example football clubs such as Chelsea. This provided further cultural power and how sports journalists were only too happy to criticise her work in return of favours and interviews with key players.
Misha Glenny explained the origins of the whole process which (as ever) started during Mrs Thatcher’s premiership although he said it carried on under Major, Blair and Brown and is well and truly alive today. Mrs Thatcher’s central plank was to reduce subsidies for the arts and encourage private patronage. This opened to door for wealthy individuals to put money into galleries, museums and orchestras and other cultural institutions. It also gave them influence over the sort of things which are put on.
But more importantly, it gave them a philanthropic reputation which brings us back to the libel issue because, to pursue a libel claim, you had to establish a reputation to defend here. Their philanthropy did this even though the sums involved were peanuts in terms of the wealth extracted from Russia.
The Independent (?) online newspaper, owned by an oligarch was give as an example with a piece it published regretting the non-invitation to Vladimir Putin to the Queen’s funeral.
In the following day’s session, Phillippe Sands spoke of the huge sums given to the Conservative party. He also spoke of the somewhat different opinion in the UK of Boris Johnson to that which he enjoys in Ukraine. The view in the UK was more ambiguous and even sinister. The point being that when Russia first started on its activities in that country, there were many in the UK who were able to downplay its importance and many happy to claim that ‘Ukraine was always part of Russia’.
The combination of these forces, the highly successful political and cultural influence the oligarchs had acquired, the ‘no questions asked’ financial milieu and the ease with which money could be siphoned off to network of tax havens centred on London, combined with massively expensive and oppressive libel laws, meant the UK’s political process has been compromised.
The implication for human rights is clear. Wealth and influence buys silence and complicity.
Matters changed with the invasion in February. Oligarch’s assets were frozen and the plight of Ukrainians could no longer be brushed away. Film of Russia’s activities, the massive number of human rights abuses and evidence of torture together with bombing civilian targets, became obvious to all. Suddenly, things Ukrainian were everywhere, with a concert at the Albert Hall for example and Ukrainian food being more visible. However, the speakers were not convinced this would be permanent. The scale of their financial power and the likelihood of compassion fatigue would probably mean over time, their steady return and influence.
If you missed it then you can access it via this link. Books referred to:
Iran is appearing in the news in the last week or so as a result of the death of a woman, Mahsa Amini, who was allegedly beaten by Iran’s Morality Police for not covering her hair properly. Riots have broken out all round the country and have continued for many days. According to Hrana, the Iranian human rights organisation, the family was told she would be released after attending a session on re-education. Yesterday, schoolgirls were reported to be shouting ‘get lost’ to a spokesman from the Morality Police.
This urgent action concerns two women under risk of execution for their real or perceived sexual orientation. If you are able to sign, that would be greatly appreciated. See the link below:
In place of our monthly meeting, as ever we had a supper at Great Durnford. In previous years it has been a barbeque but because of the drought and advice about the fire risk, we opted for a cold collation. About a dozen came and it was much enjoyed. We were blessed by the weather but being late August, the temperature did drop as the evening wore on.
12/08/22 One year since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, conditions for human rights defenders, especially women, have further deteriorated, the undersigned members of Protect Defenders.eu – said today. A year ago, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, they promised to respect human rights – including the rights of women and girls and media […]
UPDATE: 11 June 2022: The court has ruled in favour of the government on Friday so the deportations to Rwanda can go ahead. There is an appeal on Monday.
With the completion of the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill into law, most of the concentration this month has been on the plans for offshoring failed asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, it is worth noting that the provisions of the Bill do not all come into force immediately, as it will be a couple of months before some changes to immigration rules can be completed, and some changes are dependent on when “commencement orders” are made. On 28th June about a third of the provisions will become live; they include the two-tier refugee status, inadmissibility and third country removal rules at the heart of the Act; the new or toughened criminal offences in section 40; and the power to require people who don’t need a UK visa to get an electronic travel authorisation.
On Rwanda, legal representation has been made against the lawfulness of the action, by a group of legal and charitable organisations, plus the civil service trade union. The plan remains to send the first claimants to Africa on the 14th June.
The government website states: The government’s world-leading Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda has taken its final administrative step, as the Home Office has begun issuing formal removal direction letters to those who are set to go to Rwanda where they will be able to rebuild their lives in safety.
The Home Office itself, in its assessment of the plan, noted problems in several areas, such as a lack of staff and training, the independence of the appeals process, shortage of legal advice and risks to LGBTQ+ refugees. They note that Rwanda currently holds 127,000 refugees mostly from the DRC. It is also noteworthy that Whitehall set up a body to review the accuracy of official documents on Rwanda, but this may be a victim of proposed civil service cuts.
Of those who have been informed of their imminent departure, 10 people have withdrawn their applications to stay, which may count as a success for the policy… The others are presently in detention, despite the Home Office saying it would issue notices of intent while seekers were living in the community. It has also been noted that a recently-arrived boatload of mainly Sudanese refugees have been detained; they had not been assisted by people smugglers in their journey.
More positively, amendments to the regulations on private lives will allow young migrants 15 years lawful residence rather than the 10 years for older migrants, and children born in the UK can apply for residence when they have been here for 7 years, rather than receiving a 2 ½ year visa.
Between September 2020 and September 2021:
203 failed asylum seekers were sent home. 737 left voluntarily. These figures compare with some 20,000 in 2005, and are indicative of the relatively high success rates for applicants currently. However, delays in processing have resulted in a record 109,000 applicants awaiting a decision as of March 2022.
About 75% of applicants for asylum are successful; since leaving the EU and the “Dublin agreement”, the UK has identified some 13,000 cases where the migrant could be returned to another EU country, but has only actually “returned” 75.
In 2021 843,538 visas were issued to non-EU migrants (many of them student visas, and a large number from Hong Kong and Afghanistan). Relatedly, of seasonal work visas issued, interestingly 67% were to Ukrainians (8% Russians). This year there is a shortage of up to 75% as a result (10,000 extra visas have been promised but nothing seems to have resulted).
The suggestion that asylum seekers should be sent to a facility at Linton-on-Ouse is being opposed by the local inhabitants, who have pointed out that there is no legal aid facility in the area.
The number of boat people arriving across the Channel remain high this year, believed to be currently approaching 10,000. A quarter of the arrivals are from Afghanistan, despite the existence of the ACRS scheme.
On the Ukrainian front, latest figures indicate that 136,000 applications for visas have been made, 115,000 received and 65,000 migrants have arrived. This works out at 10 per 10,000 population. Germany’s equivalent figure is 87 per 10,000 population.
Finally, a comment from Twitter:
Suicidal client in immigration detention has been told they are unable to provide counselling and instead has been sent a trauma handout pack in English (language he cannot understand). Suggestions include “try a new haircut” and “play an instrument.”
We are pleased to report that the number of views to this site was an all-time record in 2021 at 8,375. This is an increase of 28% on 2020 itself a record. Well over six thousand were from the USA and just under a thousand from the UK. A surprise is over 200 from PRC, China where almost certainly sites such as this are blocked due partly to our references to the abuses of the Uyghurs.
We wish a happy New Year to our readers and followers.
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.
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 MPs
Andrew Hemming, Chair, Salisbury Amnesty International
The first successful labor strike took place at Deir el-Medina—the same place where songs of personal expression were born. Mere coincidence? Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker: The first songs to express personal emotions and individual aspirations appeared more than 3,000 years ago in Deir el-Medina, a village on the west bank of the Nile. […]
In the News: On Friday 18 June, the Ministry of Justice published the End-to-End Rape Review Report on Findings and Actions, which assesses how the system is currently failing rape complainants, and sets out a plan to return the volume of cases progressing to court to pre-2016 levels. In the two years it took to…