Group news


August 2022

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.

Sportswashing alive and well


The sporting world seems more concerned with money than with the the activities of the regimes who supply it

August 2022

Two sporting events took place more or less at the same time today : Newcastle United Football Club will be playing Manchester City today and Joshua Reynolds fought a boxing match in Jedda. The connection? Both events are heavily funded by the Saudis as part of its sportswashing activities. They hope by directing attention to the sporting activities, the gaze of the world will be deflected from the horrors of the regime itself: the beheadings and amputations, the use of torture and unfair trials, the brutal silencing of any opposition and the denial of equal rights to women in the kingdom.

A leader in the Observer newspaper today (21 August 2021) suggested that Newcastle United supporters should observe a minutes silence at the start of the match against Manchester City (whose own financing by UAE’s Sheikh Mansour also raised questions with its use of torture, abuse of migrant labourers and unfair trials) in recognition of the draconian 34 year sentence handed down to Salma al-Shehab for faintly ludicrous crimes of ‘disrupting public order’ and allegedly publishing ‘false rumours’. Perhaps the writer of the Observer editorial had not looked at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and in particular, the sports pages. Had they done so they would have observed (!) that nowhere in the pages of stories about the club, its players and assorted transfers, was there any mention of the goings on by their funders in Saudi or the fate of Salma*.

A successful policy

In most of the reports about the Joshua match, the focus was on his childish sobbing because he lost narrowly to the Ukrainian. Both Newcastle and Joshua Reynolds are in receipt of substantial sums from Mohammed bin Salman. One has to admit it is a largely successful policy. As far as the sports writers and supporters are concerned, it’s the sport that matters and the nature of the dirty money seems to be of little interest to them. Pages of print are taken up with the activities on the field or in the ring and the supporters are not exposed to the unseemly activities of the regime which makes it all possible.

Sport seems almost detached from the political world despite the fact that huge amounts of money to keep the football league in place comes from a variety of dubious sources and despotic regimes. The vast sums paid in eye-watering transfers do not just come from ticket prices or from thin air. Vast amounts are also available for golf, tennis, Formula 1 and horse racing.

The word ‘sportswashing’ is relatively new but using sport to enhance a regime goes back to the interwar years at least with Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup. Post war and the communist regimes of Russia and East Germany engaged in it to enhance their own prestige but with their own sports people. Many sports are involved including tennis, golf, cycling, F1 and horse racing.

The desire for success by football clubs in particular means that money matters more than anything else. If a club cannot populate its team with the best players, acquired at great expense, it cannot succeed in the league or in other competitions. A kind of dependency grows and questions of propriety and the sordid nature or source of the money get short shrift. When the Saudi funding of Newcastle first came to light, there seemed little concern among supporters about the regime as witnessed in the below-the-line comments in the Chronicle and other social media. Success was the thing and getting rid of Mike Ashley the driving force.

There is no getting away from the fact that sport is a significant element of our culture. Millions watch it on TV, attend matches, buy the kit of their favourite club and read the sports pages. Sportsmen and women and sports commentators are among the top earners in the media universe. They appear immune from any moral opprobrium. They appear on panel shows like the BBC’s A Question of Sport. The moral chasm however is alarming. Anthony Joshua for example, when asked about human rights before a previous bout in Saudi, said he hadn’t heard of Amnesty as he was too busy training at the gym. As the sums mount and more tyrants join in the game of sanitising their reputations by using sport, the question is, will there come a time when the money is so egregious that the political class, or even the sports authorities themselves, begin to take notice? So far, somnolence and heads remaining firmly in sand seems to hold sway.

*There were references in the paper at the time of the funding takeover.

Boxing in Saudi


Mohammed bin Salman continues his sportswashing activity with a boxing fixture tomorrow in Jedda

August 2022

With its vast wealth, Saudi Arabia is pursuing its attempt to whitewash its reputation by sponsoring a boxing match today (Saturday 20th 2022) between British born Anthony Joshua and the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in Jedda. Each will share a purse of around £33m. This is not the first time and in a previous post we pointed out the human rights problems in Saudi to which Joshua gave a less than satisfactory answer.

Readers of this site will not be unaware of the many posts we have published concerning the dire human rights situation in Saudi. Mass executions including one of the largest ever of 81 men in one day in March. The use of torture is routine, children are not exempt and Mustafa al-Darwish was executed last year. Trials are in secret and often little more than rubber stamping confessions produced following torture.

Only today 19 August 2022, there was a report of a Saudi woman given a 34 year sentence for using Twitter. A terrorist court has imposed the sentence on the Leeds University student who has a mere 2,500 or so followers.

Saudi activities in Yemen also should be mentioned with bombing of non military targets commonplace. British and US arms including aircraft are used in these missions and British personnel – including RAF personnel – are in place to ‘advise’ the Saudis.

In an effort to sanitise this reputation, MbS has embarked on a programme of sportswashing which has included golf, boxing, tennis, F1, horse racing with the worlds richest prize. Even chess is supported. Money has also come to Newcastle United football club. According to a report by Grant Liberty, a massive £1.5bn has been spent on this sportswashing. And the money works with little sign of the hundreds of sports people being the least bit concerned about the country they are competing in. The sports pages are full of their endeavours with facile interviews of the stars. Beheadings? Torture? Mass executions? Yemen? No women’s rights to speak of? None of it seems to concern our sporting heroes so long as the money is right.

Sources: Amnesty, The Guardian, Grant Liberty

Rwanda policy


August 2022

A judge has ruled that six passages redacted from a policy statement concerning the removals policy to Rwanda must be revealed. Ten passages had been so redacted and the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, had applied to the court for them not to be released using public interest immunity. Several newspaper groups have applied to the court and today (17 August 2022) they were successful.

The human rights situation in Rwanda is poor. Several human rights groups have described excessive state control, political opposition not being tolerated and the arbitrary mistreatment of children, sex workers and street vendors. Torture is practised and there are suspicions of people being murdered.

The government hopes to use the deportations to Rwanda as a deterrent for the people crossing the Channel, a problem which has increased month on month.

The first flight was planned to go from Boscombe Down airfield a mile or two from where this is being written. The European Court overruled the government and the plane left the following day, empty. It will be interesting to read what the redacted passages contain. It is known that Foreign Office officials raised concerns and recommended that we do not get involved with the country.

Afghanistan: One year after Taliban takeover, human rights defenders at greater risk than ever — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers


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 […]

Afghanistan: One year after Taliban takeover, human rights defenders at greater risk than ever — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers

Further threats to our human rights proposed


Suella Braverman, the attorney general, proposes further action to counter the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR

August 2022

The onslaught on the UK’s human rights continues apace. In a recent speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank, Ms Braverman argues for radical action to counter the influence of ECHR rules on UK legal affairs. This latest attack is almost certainly triggered by the decision of the European Court to prevent the deportation to Rwanda of a number of immigrants. This occurred almost minutes before the plane was due to take off from Boscombe Down airfield, a mile or two from where this is being written.

The government is evidently determined to reduce several key rights enjoyed by British people sometimes for centuries. A new act will make it harder to protest and gives the police and ministers greater powers to carry curtail them. The ability to seek judicial review is also to be curtailed. The ability to strike is to be subject to yet further restrictions. The Human Rights Act itself is to be abolished and replaced with a Bill of Rights which will be weaker. The weight of legislation, current or proposed, will together amount to a significant reduction in the ability of ordinary people to hold the government to account. We must also add sustained attacks on the BBC, its journalists and its funding, and the intention to sell off Channel 4 which are both seen as irritants.

We discussed in an earlier post, Ms Braverman’s dubious and we argued – quite inappropriate – attitude towards torture, echoing the arguments of Prof Posner of Chicago. We referenced an article in the Observer which showed that several of her claims about her career were of doubtful veracity: no record could be found for example of a supposed contribution to a legal text book. Her claims about the chambers she worked in were also questioned. She was one of the candidates to become Britain’s new prime minister.

In a review of her speech in the Guardian, she is quoted as saying:

[…] a culture where fringe campaign groups, purporting to champion rights, have claimed a moral high ground and have adopted an attitude of intolerance. Often with vastly inflated salaries and armed with a Newspeak dictionary, they have created mighty citadels of grievance across the public sector and made huge inroads into the private sector

Guardian, 11 August 20122, p5

She further claims that the UK now has a ‘rights culture’. One of the problems in discussing her comments and speeches is that few examples are given to illustrate the points she is making. She attacks the judiciary, the human rights community and is vociferous about ‘woke’ matters. She continues in office largely because of her loyalty to the outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson. As Attorney General, she has to pursue a difficult balancing act. She is both law officer to the government and a member of the government, one of those peculiarly British positions which is fundamentally absurd but previous post holders have acquitted well. Ms Braverman has not, perhaps because of her loyalty to a prime minister who was forced to resign because of one scandal too many.

The concern is that the rhetoric and legislation which comes from it are becoming a danger. Human rights are seen as a threat. Quite how this ‘rights culture’ has damaged the interest of British citizens is never explained. She shares with Dominic Raab a dislike of protest, the judiciary and the European Court and they seek to weaken all of them, eagerly supported by the right wing press. Our system of government, imperfect as it is, is built on the notion of checks and balances. They seek to garner more power to themselves and, by more and more legislation, reduce the opportunity for challenge by protest or via the judiciary.

This post was written without using a Newspeak dictionary.

Bill of Rights consultation


August 2022

Government invites consultation on its Bill of Rights – but are they listening?

Dubbed by some as the ‘Rights Removal Bill’ the Bill of Rights is currently before Parliament and the government is inviting comments which can be accessed via the EachOther site. The bill has attracted considerable criticism and overall is likely to reduce the rights that people currently enjoy. A number of Conservative politicians have been unhappy with the Human Rights Act which they wish to see replaced with this Bill of Rights. Successive party manifestos have promised its abolition.

In a previous post we drew attention to a book published by the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab which goes someway to explaining the thinking and beliefs which led to this bill. We looked at some of the arguments in the book, Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009), which have led to the current bill. It claims that there is now an ‘arsenal of rights’ and this is reflected in the introductory remarks which refer to ‘mission creep’. We said that the history was of doubtful merit: the argument being that the country achieved greatness because of its freedoms and liberties and by inference, its decline came about because we have become rule bound of which the HRA is but one culprit. It is part of the small government and limited regulation which some conservative MPs desire. Significantly, the book is peppered with quotes from the Daily Mail which has carried a large number of stories critical of the act. The paper has also directly criticised judges on its front page, calling them ‘enemies of the people’ yet Liz Truss, when she was Justice Secretary, failed to support them until shamed into doing so.

Print media influence

The paper, along with others newspapers from time to time, have produced a series of stories critical of the act. Some are pure inventions and some claim the act is responsible when in fact it has been other legislation which has stoked their ire. Where positive stories appear, for example Hillsborough, the role of the act in achieving justice is downplayed or not mentioned. Readers of the Daily Mail where not told when it itself used the act to protect journalistic sources. The role of the media is important because over the years they have encouraged a negative view of the act to take hold claiming it aids criminals and help all sorts of undesirable people to escape justice by using, in a spurious way, some clause or other thus alleging justice cannot be served because it is their ‘human right’. It has enabled politicians to bring forward this bill safe in the knowledge that sections of the public have been primed over a period of decades to view the act as a thoroughly bad lot and the sooner it is done away with the better. Throw in Europe and the European Court overruling parliament and the scene is set.

If we look at the range of bills and acts, we see a pattern of thinking where laws are introduced to limit protest, restricting access to judicial review, proposals to limit the right to strike still further, and increased police powers amounting collectively to a real step backwards for the liberties of the individual. Taken with the Bill of Rights if it becomes law in its current form, the trend is worrying.

The Bill

The bill has a number of aims. It seeks to dilute ‘positive obligations‘ on public authorities. In view of the current state of the police – one such authority – where a number of forces have been hit by scandal after scandal and several are in special measures, this seems to be particularly inappropriate. It is claimed that the bill will further hurt women’s rights. The already abysmally low level of prosecutions for rape with an even lower level of convictions, will not be helped if the requirement for positive obligations is diluted.

It introduces a permissive stage, a kind of trial before a trial. Since the justice system is already in a state of crisis with extensive delays before a case can come to court, this will have the effect of delaying matters still further. It will also add to costs.

European Court judgements will no longer be part of domestic law. The Supreme Court will also have superiority over the Strasbourg court which is where we came in really. The problem was always that people failed to get justice in the UK courts and had to go to Strasbourg to get it. In a significant number of cases, Strasbourg overruled the UK courts and this became more and more embarrassing. Hence the introduction of the HRA. The Assault on Liberty referred to above is notable for its romantic view of the past and our justice system. The desire to remove Strasbourg from the scene relies on the fantasy of the British justice system being somehow superior. Yet many of our judges, being a product of a very narrow education and from a small part of society, have often shown themselves to be reactionary and out of touch. There was no glorious past which the Justice Secretary seems to think has been taken away. This is discussed in more detail in Conor Gearty’s book, On Fantasy Island (OUP, 2016).

Finally, the desire for rights and responsibilities to be introduced. This is connected in some way to the idea that rights are conditional on good behaviour and that irresponsible behaviour – however that is defined – makes someone less deserving.

The Chair of Joint Committee on Human Rights JCHR, Joanna Cherry QC MP has said that the bill is an ‘unfortunate regression in rights protection’ and has written to the Justice Secretary in those terms.

The local Amnesty group is opposed to the bill. The local Salisbury MP, Mr John Glen has stated he wishes to see the HRA abolished and will be supporting the new bill.

We urge people to submit their views to government while there is still time. As we write (2 August), Liz Truss, seems favourite to become the new prime minister in which case it is certain to become law.

Human Rights and the new PM


July 2022

The likely human rights policies of the new prime minister are becoming clearer. Both are decidedly negative

In a previous post we commented on Rishi Sunak’s attitude to human rights if he becomes prime minister. At the time he looked to be the favourite as he had the most votes from his fellow Conservative MPs. His prospects look to be less clear now and there is a distinct prospect that Liz Truss will succeed when the Conservative party supporters vote. The reason is that they are largely from an older generation, mostly white and and live in the south of England. They are fearful of immigration and this may have led both contestants to ‘up the ante’ with regard to immigration and human rights.

Rishi Sunak has consistently voted against socio-economic policies which may benefit the poorest in our society. He has voted against policies which would tackle tax avoidance which in turn means the Treasury is denied billions of pounds of revenue which could be used for investing in our infrastructure.

Both Truss and Sunak are not exactly enthusiastic for environmental matters. Sunak has voted against on-shore wind turbines and Truss wants to abolish the Green Levy.

Both are against retaining the European Charter on Fundamental Human Rights and the abolition of the Human Rights Act to be replaced by a new Bill of Rights the details of which are awaited.

Both are keen on the Rwanda deportation policy and Truss is keen to extend it to other countries as well. Sunak has promised to increase the size of the Border Force and also introduce storage of immigrants in cruise ships moored around the UK.

There seems to be something of an arms race between them with daily statements by their supporters and in speeches promising to make immigration harder than ever to achieve. It seems to be to appeal to this narrow group of people who will vote for the new PM, who are thought to be anti-immigrants and want to see ever tougher action against them, particularly those arriving by boat. Some of these hostile attitudes are promoted by sections of our media, a pattern we have seen for some years. It is difficult to say whether it is the tail wagging the dog however. Whatever the outcome, it is depressing to note the desire by both candidates to express their hostility to human rights and the plight of immigrants.

In all these claims for ever tougher policies, the issue of legality has been raised. It is not just European laws but treaties we have signed over the years which make carrying out aggressive policies in this area difficult.

Rishi Sunak is supported in his bid to be PM by our local MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen. His wish to see the Human Rights Act repealed is well known and his They Work For You profile shows his general antipathy to human rights. The question is to what extent does he support these ever more aggressive attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers? Perhaps he should be asked …

Human Rights records of PM candidates


Link to post by Each Other of the human rights records of the prime ministerial candidates

July 2022

It will be down to two candidates by tonight (20 July 2022) but the review by EachOther of the human rights records of the four candidates is instructive. We already posted the worrying record of Rishi Sunak, currently in the lead. This link adds more detail.

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