Good news!


Good news from Amnesty

30 September 2022

“With so much injustice spanning the globe, sometimes it’s hard to remain hopeful that things will change for the better. Trust me, I know – I am often the bearer of bad news, writing to you with urgency of crises, crackdowns, and individuals at risk who have had their human rights violated. But today, we wanted to let you know that the actions of Amnesty supporters around the world really do count. They’ve not only made a meaningful impact for human rights both at home and abroad – but thy’ve also helped change lives.

“Small actions from compassionate people like you, really do have big impacts. Here are just a handful from the past few months:

The first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia under a new Community Sponsorship pilot

“After years of relentless advocacy, at the end of 2021 the Australian Federal Government not only announced the rollout of a new Community Sponsorship pilot – they also finally agreed to reduce dramatically the cost of Australia’s existing Community Sponsorship Program, making it more accessible for everyday Australians to participate and welcome refugees into their communities. In August of this year (2022), the first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia to begin their new lives in safety.

Charges were dropped against a New South Wales legal observer

“Under NSW’s new and dangerous anti-protest laws, back in June a volunteer Legal Observer faced a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine, after being arrested alongside 34 protesters.

“Amnesty made representations to the NSW police, calling on them to respect the right to protest, as well as the human rights of the Legal Observer. In August, her charges were dropped. Over 30,000 supporters continue to call on the NSW police to protect our right to protest.

“Legal Observers play a vital role in monitoring police & providing legal support to protesters. Thanks to the relentless advocacy from Amnesty International, Legal Observers NSW and Sydney City Crime, my charges have been recently dropped.” – Chloe Sinclair, Legal Observer

Texas: Ramiro Gonzalez’ execution was stayed

“Back in July, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) stayed the execution for Ramiro Gonzales – just 48 hours before it was due to be carried out in Texas. Experts concluded that Ramiro does not pose a threat of future danger to society, due to the passage of time and his significant maturity. As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice – all thanks to the power of ordinary people, continuing to stand up for what’s right! Our fight for global abolition continues.

People power freed Ahmed Samir Santawy from prison in Egypt

“Back in July, Ahmed Samir Santawy, a women’s rights and reproductive rights researcher, was convicted of spreading “false news” and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days. Ahmed’s conviction was based solely on social media posts criticising human rights violations in Egypt.

“Over 10,000 people in Australia signed the petition demanding Ahmed’s release, and almost 5,000 people called the Egyptian embassy, putting further pressure on authorities – and it worked. In August, Ahmed was finally released from prison after being given a presidential pardon. Thank you for helping free Ahmed!

Ahmed reunites with his loved ones on the day of his release. ©Wies De Graeve

New York: We sued the NYPD for surveillance of protesters – and we won!

“In New York, facial recognition technology has been used to target people of colour in protests. Back in 2020, we asked the the New York Police Department (NYPD) to publish their data on facial recognition – and they refused. So we mapped their surveillance cameras with the help of 7,000 supporters, filed a lawsuit against them, and won.

“In August, they were ordered to disclose thousands of records of how they procured and used facial recognition technology against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance.

LGBTQIA+ liberation soared across the globe 

“Thanks to LGBTQIA+ people and their allies at the forefront, back in July Switzerland’s same-sex marriage laws finally came into effect after overwhelming support of its legalisation in a national referendum last year. In August, the government of Singapore passed historic legislation to end LGBTQIA+ criminalisation. Shortly after, Vietnamese authorities said that being LGBTQIA+ should not be treated as an illness. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health called on medical professionals to ensure LGBTQIA+ people are not discriminated against, calling for an end to dangerous conversion practices – something over 40,000 supporters in Australia continue to campaign against, too. Solidarity!”

It is good to report successes from time to time.

(From and Amnesty message – lightly edited. The original contained photographs)

People in the Park


Group to participate in the People in the Park event on 18 September

We shall be at the People in the Park event all day on 18 September 2021 which takes place in Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury. Anyone interested in human rights issues is welcome to come and meet us and it would be a good opportunity if you are considering joining us.

Human rights are high on the political scale at present. Afghanistan is in the news following the Taliban’s victory in that country. Women’s rights will be severely affected: their freedom to go out without a male escort, reduced rights to education and a requirement to be covered from head to toe.

We must not forget Yemen where a war is still raging and the role of the UK and other western governments in supporting the bombing campaign is causing considerable stress and hardship.

Here at home in the UK, the government is keen to introduce laws restricting the right to protest and limiting the power of the judiciary to moderate government behaviour.

In China, the treatment of Uyghurs has been appalling with around a million being forced into so-called re-education.

All told, there is a lot to be concerned about around the world and in the UK. We look forward to seeing you on 18th.

Film: The Breadwinner


The Oscar nominated film The Breadwinner is showing this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre in Salisbury at 7:30 pm.  It concerns a young girl who pretends to be a boy in Taliban controlled Afghanistan to enable her to look after her family.  Cert 12A.  Tickets available from the Arts Centre, 01722 320 333, at the door or on line https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/salisbury-arts-centre/the-breadwinner/#book-tickets

There will be a short introduction by a member of our group.  If you are interested in joining the group we shall be around before and after the showing so it would be a good time to make yourself known.

Salisbury refugee


UPDATE: 26 January

There is now a Change.org petition highly critical of the government and the lack of any response from the Home office minister Caroline Nokes,  The comments are worth reading and mostly supportive of his case.

UPDATE: January 25: 15:30

Reza now in Afghanistan  Salisbury Journal 25th

UPDATE: January 23, 18:00

Reza is reported to be in Kabul see https://www.change.org/p/home-office-stop-deportation-of-reza-to-afghanistan

UPDATE: January 22, 18:00

Latest news is the Reza is due to be deported at any moment.

 

Further developments with Reza Maghsoudi

Readers may recall an earlier post about a refugee from Afghanistan who has been living in this country for some years and Salisbury for 2, who went to Melksham police station for a routine appointment, whereupon he was arrested and sent to a Detention Centre prior to a planned deportation.  Reza Maghsoudi gained some local publicity and there was a follow-up item on BBC Wiltshire last month.

In today’s Salisbury Journal (4 January 2018), the Salisbury MP Mr Glen, in his View from the Commons piece, devotes some space to Reza’s case:

I was in my office at 9am on January 2nd to plan my latest intervention on behalf of Reza Maghsoudi, the young Afghan national who is facing deportation.  His many allies in Salisbury have been fighting compassionately and tirelessly to help him regularize his immigration status so that he can continue with his life he has built here – the dear friends he has made and the skills he has learned.

A decision is due and I have been keen to once again to ensure that the case in on the personal radar of the minister so that the significant new evidence that has come to light in recent week can be taken into account.

This is of course encouraging and we hope that the combination of publicity and political pressure bear fruit.

Why are we here?

But why do we have a situation like this in the first place?  Why do we have a series of policies whereby someone like Reza is held in a detention centre and is under constant threat of deportation?  The answer of course is because for some years now the government has pursued aggressive policies in an attempt to reduce immigration.  These have included:

  • plans to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’
  • tightening of work visa eligibility
  • greater scrutiny of students concerning their eligibility to stay and study
  • reducing benefits to the lowest level in Europe
  • provision of sub-standard housing and is what the home affairs sub-committee described as ‘disgraceful’.
  • introducing bureaucratic delays which regularly force people into destitution according to the Refugee Council.

The benefit reductions came about because it was claimed by David Cameron, when he was the prime minister, that our benefits were a ‘magic pull’ to people wishing to come here.  There was no evidence for this.  This led to cuts trumpeted to save £500m.  These attitudes have been stirred up by some of the media who have great influence on government policy.  One media commentator called refugees ‘cockroaches’ in the Daily Mail for example.  Despite research evidence to show that immigrants are of net benefit to the UK economy, politicians and some media editors constantly refer to them as a ‘problem’ and a drain on the economy.  They are seen as another form of scrounger.  People seeking asylum – like Reza – have been conflated with immigration as a deliberate policy (Migration Policy).

So Reza is a small part of a concerted programme of demonizing immigrants and asylum seekers by legal restrictions, benefit reductions and detaining them in detention centres.  It is interesting to contrast the plans being prepared by Mr Glen in the Salisbury Journal piece with a rather different speech he made in the House Of Commons:

One aspect of that reform, referred to in the Queen’s Speech, is access to benefits for immigrants. It is right that the Government are considering limiting access to housing benefit and health care for people who have not earned the right to it. It is not enough to keep ignoring that uncomfortable truth because we are frightened of being too right wing, too nasty or too unpleasant. The routine experience of people up and down this country is that on the front line, at the point of delivery and at the point of receiving public services, they are too often displaced by people who, apparently, should not have the right to access those services. I am pleased that the Government will address that in legislation.   (Source: Theyworkforyou.com, May 2013 Queen’s Speech debate (our highlight)

Mr Reza’s case is not about benefits but it is about the attitudes of a government who have adopted an aggressive approach based upon misinformation and media attacks.  We wish Reza every success.

xenophobic-headlines

Sources: BBC; fullfacts.org; Refugee Council; Migration Policy; UCL; Guardian; Independent

 

Afghanistan


Britain’s role in Afghanistan is coming to an after over a decade of bloodshed and war.  It is doubtful that the country is in a fit state to function effectively since the Taliban and the warlords are still very much in evidence and there are reports of ISIS being present in the country as well.  After all this time it is easy to forget some of the original aims which were defeating terrorism and the Taliban.  We can also forget that it was the CIA who helped establish, arm and train the Taliban in order to assist them in their fight with the Russians.

One of the major victims of the years of war is women.  It has turned thousand of Afghan women into refugees and widows – or both – and made it dangerous for them to seek schooling, go out to work, get healthcare or secure paid employment.  Before the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, women’s rights had steadily improved and indeed, there are many photographs from that era women and girls in schools and university with not a burqa or veil in sight.  Improving the rights of women became one of the additional aims of the invasion and it will be recalled that Cherie Blair – wife of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair – hosted an event in 10, Downing Street in 2001 with this aim in mind.  Kofi Annan said:

There cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the then secretary of state Colin Powell:

The recovery of Afghanistan must entail a restoration of the rights of women, indeed it will not be possible without them.

Abdul Hakim Hashemi  Hademi
Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hademi

At the South West regional conference of Amnesty International it was heartening to hear from someone who has worked to improve the status of women through theatre and artistic groups in the countryside.  The speaker was Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hamidi who set up the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art, SFACA.  Unlike many aid programmes which tend to stay in Kabul or the main cities, SFACA goes out into the countryside and to the villages.

He has organised educational theatre workshops in prisons, juvenile correction centres, drug addiction rehabilitation centres, in schools and with the police.  He has produced films with an emphasis on human rights and the role of women.

Not all the problems faced by women are solely to do with the Taliban. Another factor is honour killings which are at a very high rate in the country.  57% are identified as the responsibility of a family member and 21% by the husband.  The perpetrator of 43% killings is unclear however.  A telling quote from the PowerPoint display was:

A problem with women [is] because men don’t accept women have rights

He went on to discuss the problems of human rights defenders in Afghanistan. These included difficulty in

Delegates at the South West Region conference
Delegates at the South West Region conference

travelling to some areas combined with a lack of government control in some parts of the country, traditional beliefs and illiteracy.  Religion was a main cause he said and human rights are seen as a western construct.  He urged that the UK government consider the role of human rights defenders in their discussions with the Afghans.

It was an interesting and uplifting talk by someone who has taken risks to go into the Afghanistan countryside to promote the rights of women.  Abdul is a visiting fellow on the Protective Fellowship Scheme for Human Rights Defenders at York UniversityThere is a permanent link to the York University Centre for Applied Human Rights at the bottom of the main page.

Sources:

Watson Institute

Global Research

Amnesty International

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