Arsenal football club embroiled in an embarrassing human rights dispute

The UK’s Arsenal football club became embroiled in an embarrassing and potentially expensive dispute with the Chinese authorities this week concerning the statement made by one of its footballers, Mesut Özil. The problem arose because Mesut, a Muslim, said on Instagram, concerning the plight of the Uighurs in China:

East Turkestan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion. They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men. But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?

Sport, money, human rights, politics brought together in one place


December 16th is the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the UK

At 8am on 13 August 1964, the last execution took place in the United Kingdom.  Two men: Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were separately executed in Manchester and Liverpool.  The death penalty for murder was abolished in the following year 1965 and made permanent on 16 December 1969.  Northern Ireland followed in 1973 and the last hanging offence – treason – was abolished in 1998.  In the current climate however, the question has to be asked, how secure is this decision and will it last another 50 years without being repealed?

Many will remember some of the impassioned debates which took place at the time with concerns it would lead to a rise in the murder rate.  Indeed, the vicar of All Saints, Clapton in London, said at the time it would be a ‘wholesale license to kill’.  The police wanted to be armed if the bill was passed.  Despite its abolition, the homicide rate in the UK has remained reasonable static over many years.  The figures for the last 3 years for example are 721 (2016/17); 728 (2017/18) and 701 (2018/19).  (Source: Statistica).  

Amnesty is opposed the use of the death penalty for six reasons:

  1.  It is the ultimate denial of human rights and is contrary to the articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to life and the right not to be tortured or subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  2.  It is irreversible.  Mistakes are made and cannot be rectified.
  3.  It does not deter.  This perhaps is the strongest case made for its continued use yet many studies show it simply is not true.  Violent crime rates are not significantly worse in US states which use the penalty compared to those who do not.
  4.  It is often used with unfair justice systems.  Confessions sometimes forcibly extracted are a feature.  Clive Stafford Smith’s book on a particular case in Florida is instructive.
  5.  It is often used in a discriminatory way and you are more likely to be executed if you are a member of a minority group or if you suffer from mental health problems.  It is also racially biased.
  6.  It is used as a political tool to execute people who are seen as a threat to the authorities.

World wide

There has been a decrease in the number of countries using the death penalty according the 2018 Amnesty Report on the subject.  690 people were executed in 2018 in 20 countries representing a 31% decrease on the previous year.  However, these statistics exclude China – the world’s largest executioner – but where the number of executions, which is known to be vast, is a state secret.  Belarus is the only country in Europe still to have the penalty and executed at least 4 people in 2018.

The five biggest countries which still execute its citizens are: China; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Viet Nam and Iraq.  78% of all executions take place in the last four countries in this list (with the caveat that the China figure is unknown).  It is possible China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together.

The Salisbury group monitors cases around the world and produces a monthly report.

United Kingdom

There has been a noticeable increase in rhetoric around harsher prison sentences and a desire to lock more people up for longer.  The current UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel has made a number of speeches and wants to see longer sentences, more prisoners kept in prisons for longer and generally supports a tougher approach to criminal justice.  She has seemed to support the death penalty although she denies that this is so.  Nevertheless, she is a powerful and insistent supporter of tougher sentencing.

A Parliamentary Enquiry has warned that UK citizens are at risk of the death penalty in the US – or of being sent to Guantanamo Bay – under a fast-track data sharing deal signed by the Home Secretary, as the result of an agreement reached with Washington last month, when the details were kept secret. It is said that the deal will give police and intelligence agencies speedy access to electronic communications sent by terrorists, serious crime gangs and white-collar criminals.   The House of Lords Committee has criticised the ‘asymmetric’ nature of the arrangement, which gives the US far greater powers to target UK citizens than vice-versa, and claims have been made that the UK will not be able to obtain ‘credible assurances’ that extradited suspects will not face execution. (Source: The Independent.)

Among the public YouGov polls reveal a mixed desire for restoring the penalty which depends a lot on what type of murder is involved.  So for multiple murders for example, 57% are in favour and 33% against.  Murder of a child shows 53% for and 31% against.  The ‘all cases of murder’ figure is 45% against and 34% for.

For crime generally in the words of YouGov ‘Voters are united: criminals should be more harshly punished.’  In the general population, 70% believe that sentences are not harsh enough which rises to 87% for Conservative supporters.  Further analysis for gender, age, location and social grade reveals only small differences.  The major difference is between Remain and Leave voters in the Referendum to leave the European Union (Brexit).  The statistic for all cases of murder shows that 64% of Remain supporters oppose the death penalty in contrast to 30% of Leave supporters – around double.  The support figures are even more marked with 51% of Leave supporters in favour of the death penalty and only 19% of Remainers.

It seems therefore that in the UK population, vengeful policies for dealing with criminality and for reintroducing the death penalty for some types of murder are still quite strong.  A conservative MP and former minister, John Hayes, asked the government last year to reintroduce the penalty.

Government policy has long been that we will not grant extradition to foreign countries if there is a risk of the individual being executed.  This policy appeared to be weakened last year by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid:

Sajid Javid, […] has caused controversy in September by indicating that the British government is prepared to waive its long-standing opposition to the use of capital punishment by foreign governments, in the case of two alleged jihadi terrorists originally from Britain.   He has agreed to provide the authorities in the United States with intelligence evidence to assist in the trials of the two men without asking for the usual assurances that any convictions would not lead to the death penalty being imposed.  Human rights champions have widely condemned this decision as compromising Britain’s principled opposition to capital punishment and as setting a dangerous precedent.  Others, however, claim the two men involved deserve whatever they get.  So was the Home Secretary’s decision right or wrong?  YouGov 24 July 2018

Taken together, with members of the public wanting the return of the death penalty for several types of murder and an increase in harsher sentences; a weakening in the policy of not supporting the extradition to countries which execute people, and a desire to abolish the Human Rights Act, the reintroduction of the death penalty – although unlikely – may not be impossible in this country.  With the Conservative government returned last week with an increased majority, things are by no means certain. That it survives as a wish in many people’s minds is a worrying fact.

Sources: YouGov; Statistica; The Independent; Guardian, Parliament.co.uk, Amnesty International


We always welcome new members and the best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook – Salisburyai – and make yourself known at an event we are organising.


The minutes of the December meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  We discussed the recent activities we have been engaged in together with future events such as carol singing on Tuesday night.

December minutes (Word)


We are pleased to attach our latest monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.  In addition to matters around the world, we mention worries about the Conservative government, if, as expected, they assume power on Friday after the election.  The present Home Secretary, Priti Patel is committed to toughening sentencing and has said she wishes to see the reintroduction of the penalty in the UK.  She denies that this is the case.  We quote survey statistics to show that it is still a desired outcome for many people, especially for those who voted leave in the EU Referendum.

Note as ever that China is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens but the data is a state secret.

November – December Report (Word)


December meeting of the group takes place tonight, Thursday 12th as usual in Victoria road at 7:30.  Supporters and new members welcome but it is a working meeting.

We have the carol singing next week.


Write for Rights in the Cathedral a success

We have been holding our card signing for many years now in the centre of Salisbury but the numbers willing to sign – even at Christmas – have dwindled.  So this year we took up the offer by the Cathedral to hold it there which we did this afternoon (8 December 2019) with great success.  Well over a hundred signed our cards and we were back to the days of a crowd of people signing.

Interestingly, and perhaps appositely, many were at the Cathedral to see the Magna Carta which of course is where the human rights story started just over 700 years ago.


Use of sport to promote interests of unsavoury regimes on the rise

The latest example is the heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia involving Anthony Joshua.  The fight was approved by the WBA, the World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation.

Readers of this site need no introduction into the unpleasantness of the Saudi Regime.  Its activities in Yemen we have featured many times on these pages.  With British and American support

Anthony Joshua (Wikipedia)

and armaments, it has carried out a bombing campaign in that country with little regard to international human rights law.  Schools, hospitals, wedding ceremonies and civilian areas generally have been bombed sometimes using what is called ‘double tap’ that is, going in for a second time when the aid workers arrive causing extra mayhem.

Human rights are low on the agenda with floggings, torture, amputations and executions the norm.  There have been 148 executions so far this year.  Women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority have all been targeted.  But never mind, there’s money to be made in them there dunes so lets go for it.

There has been a wide range of criticism of the boxer himself and the promoters, Matchroom Sport for taking the Saudi shilling for this event thus taking part in an attempt to sanitise the regime.  They denied the charge that they were sportswashing.

Never mind the stonings, public executions, or human rights, Eddie Hearn is more than happy to follow the money

Daily Telegraph, 16 August (Eddie Hearn is Joshua’s promoter)

What does Anthony Joshua himself say?  He is reported not to have known who Amnesty International was saying in a BBC interview that he spent most of his time in Finchley training.

I appreciate them [Amnesty] voicing an opinion.  And it’s good to talk about issues in the world.  But I’m there to fight.  If I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together.  The questions and the things that are happening in the world in general can’t be left to one man to solve.  We all have to make a difference.”

I’ve actually been to Saudi Arabia and I’m building a relationship,  Some of the questions that the world has to ask, maybe I could be a spokesman?  It’s a blessing and they can speak back.  And that’s relationship building, rather than just accusing, pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain.  In order to ask questions, and people that may want to make change, you have to go and get involved.  Daily Telegraph 6 September 2019

Matchroom’s site makes only scant mention of the human rights aspect.  “We are an independent company of passionate individuals” it tells us on its site: presumably the passion is confined to sport.

Of course, Joshua is not the first and certainly not the last to be involved in the process of sportwashing regimes such as Saudi Arabia.  His ‘crime’ of agreeing to fight in the kingdom does not compare with the UK government’s support and agreeing to the supply of arms to this regime over many years.  Members of the Royal Family have been happy to get engaged with a fellow royal family.

The difference is that this fight will have been seen by millions hence the purse of £40 million that Joshua will earn (there are other higher figures).  Those millions of viewers are likely to be left with an impression that it is all right to engage with such a regime.  But they have been willing stooges in the process of trying to sanitise them and its attempts to make a comeback after the murder of Khashoggi.

Sport has had its fair share of scandals.  Doping, cheating, bribery: a seemingly endless stream of less than salubrious behaviour.  FIFA and the Olympics are replete with corruption.  To many, Joshua is a hero and on the sporting front he no doubt is.  But as a hero he has a responsibility, as do those behind him, to recognise the influence he has on followers.  Some day, the sporting fraternity are going to have to recognise the role they play in shaping people’s – particularly young people’s – minds and the influence they have.  And that may mean saying ‘no’ to performing in a country where women have few rights and are imprisoned for seeking them, where torture is a way of life, and hacking off heads and limbs part of the legal system.  Good way to earn £40 million.

Last word to Matchroom:

We got criticized for coming here but these people have been amazing. The vision they have for boxing in this region is incredible and they delivered.  [Accessed 8 December]

Sources: Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Amnesty


Card signing in the Cathedral cloister today (Sunday)

TODAY

On Sunday 8th from noon till 2pm we shall be in the Cathedral cloister for our annual card signing.  For many years, we did this in the centre of Salisbury usually by the Library but the recent 2 years have been disappointing so we have decided to try the Cathedral.

Look forward to seeing you there if you are in the vicinity.


The Salisbury Amnesty group is politically neutral.  We have an interest in the Human rights Act passed with all party consensus in 1998.  The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election says:

Once we get Brexit done, Britain will take back control of its laws.  As we end the supremacy of European law, we will be free to craft legislation and regulations that maintain high standards but which work best for the UKWe want a balance of rights, rules and entitlements that benefits all the people and all the parts of our United Kingdom.

After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.  The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical.  We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.  In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.  Page 48 in the section: Protect our Democracy (our italics)

We can find no similar pledge in the other two main party’s manifesto.  To some extent this is a familiar promise.  In the past, the party has promised to repeal the act and to introduce a bill on rights and responsibilities.  Probably because of the pressure on parliamentary time with Brexit, such a bill has never emerged.  Promises to abolish the act also have never emerged.  We have asked what part of the act they want to abolish but this has never been answered.  The Party does seem to have a problem with the act as it is currently drafted.

The words themselves tell you little and may even seem on the face of it, benign.  What does ‘update the act’ mean?  Seeking a balance between the rights of individuals and our vital national security and effective government is a bit of a clue.  A regular theme of the right wing press is the threat posed by the act to our national security.  This for example from the Daily Mail in 2015:

Another day, another insult to common sense courtesy of the Human Rights Act and the lawyers enriched by this toxic piece of legislation, which allows them so profitably to ride roughshod over the wishes of Parliament and the British public.   Editorial, 1 August 2015

We shall be keeping a watching brief on Conservative party plans if they assume power on 13 December 2019.

Visitors to this site may like to visit Rights Info where this manifesto promise is also discussed.

 


We are pleased to post our minutes of the November meeting which discusses the things we have done recently and forthcoming activities.  If you are interested in joining the group, then the events list at the end is a good place to start.  You would be very welcome to come along and make yourself known.

November meeting minutes (Word)