Death penalty report published

The group’s death penalty report for June – July 2016 is now available thanks to group member Lesley forNo to the death penalty compiling it.  USA features strongly where there are a number of struggles going on.  The Maldives appear and we have written to our local MP Mr John Glen, who has a special interest in the country, to intercede.

China remains the country which executes the most followed by Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Details of executions in China are a state secret.

Report June – July (pdf)


Maldives: use of death penalty


The following letter has been sent to John Glen MP concerning the imminent use of the death penalty in the Maldives.  Mr Glen has spoken and written often about the human rights situation there.

[…] You may remember that, when you came to speak to our Group about Human
Rights, you told us of your particular interest and involvement in the issues
around Human Rights in the Maldives.
I am sure, therefore, you will have been concerned, as was our Group, to read
of the Maldives Government’s confirmation of the sentencing to death of a
young man found guilty of the killing in 2012 of a lawmaker. I understand that,
days before this ruling, the Government had amended the rules to allow
execution by lethal injection or hanging. This would bring the Country’s
decades-long moratorium on capital punishment to an end.
I would be grateful if you could let me know whether our Government will be
making any intervention in this man’s case, and expressing their concerns at
this change of policy. You will also, I am sure, be aware that the decision is
controversial, and has resulted in the resignation of the Country’s Foreign
Minister, Dunya Maumoon. We would like to ask whether you would be able
to use your influence with any of the Government contacts you will have made
in the course of your work in relation to the Maldives to support the
commuting of this man’s death sentence to a term of imprisonment, and a
reversal of the new policy.
Mr Glen has replied:
[..] I do remain closed involved with monitoring the situation in Maldives and I believer that there are number of issues there give give cause for grave concern.
You may have seen reports about the recent return to Salisbury of Anni Nasheed, the democratically elected president of the Maldives, who has recently been imprisoned in his home country on entirely spurious grounds.  I am pleased that I was able to see him while he was here and bring myself up to date with the latest developments.
As you will know, the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle and the government continues to call on all countries around the world that use the death penalty to cease its use.
As you say, this apparent selective reintroduction of the death penalty is deeply worrying.  A group of colleagues and I are committed to keeping the Maldives in forefront of the minds of Foreign Office ministers and I will certainly ensure that specific pressure has been brought to bear around this case.
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The Maldives

Running with the hare, hunting with the hounds

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has recently shared with the Observer some research it has done into the record level of arms sales to countries with dubious human rights records (Britain sells record £3bn of weapons in a year to regimes that violate human rights, 29 May 2016).  We have over recent months posted several blogs concerning these arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and also the involvement of British Service personnel in the bombing of civilians in Yemen.

We have also highlighted the government’s steady watering down of its human rights policies to enable more arms sales to take place.  The CAAT’s statistics show that more than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 ‘human rights priority countries’ that is countries where the worst of the human rights violations take place.

Countries such as Saudi and Bahrain are familiar to us but less attention has been paid to the Maldives which does have a Salisbury connection.  The first elected leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheen (pictured) – who went to school in the city – has been sentenced to 13 years in prison allegedly for terrorist offences.  Amnesty has said the sentence was ‘politically motivated’.  It released a report in February which said that the government had been:

effectively undermining human rights protection by failing to strengthen the independent institutions of the state.

A local NGO, Transparency Maldives, issued a statement expressing concern about ‘irregularities’ in the legal process.

The MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen has also been busy making speeches, writing in the Salisbury Journal and on his blog about the situation there.  He says that Nasheed’s sentence was ‘illegal’ (Time to promote freedom in the Maldives, 17 May 2016).  He goes on to say:

Last year, Nasheed was put on trial on politically-motivated and completely false charges of “terrorism”, found guilty and sentenced for 13 years.  In the course of his trial Nasheed was prohibited from presenting any evidence or calling witnesses, with the court pre-emptively concluding that no testimony could refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution.

Another 1,700 people face criminal charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared.  Attacks on the Maldives’ independent press have intensified in recent weeks to the extent that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, has been prohibited by court order from publishing its daily print edition.

He concludes his blog by arguing that pressure should be applied to the Maldivian government:

Pressure must be increasingly and continually applied to compel the Maldives Government to release its political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. I hope that CMAG [Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] will be able to greatly improve the situation but if not we should not be afraid to countenance targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on the leadership of the Maldivian Government.

All this is commendable and it is good to see an MP arguing forcefully for human rights in a place such as the Maldives.  The problem however is the arms sales.  As the Observer article makes clear, quoting Andrew Smith of CAAT ‘These arms sales are going to countries that even the Foreign Office accepts are run by some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.’

So while we may praise Mr Glen for raising this matter in Parliament and in the Journal and on his blog, the fact remains that the department granting these licenses is the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in which Mr Glen is the PPS to the Minister.  The Ministry simply says that the department

The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export controls regimes in the world.

Some may argue that Mr Glen’s position is inconsistent:  making speeches about human rights violations in the Maldives while working for a department which is busy allowing the sale of arms to them.  Others may choose to use a harsher word.



Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Further extraordinary developments

Tobias Ellwwod MP
Tobias Ellwood MP

Last year we wrote to our local MP Mr John Glen to ask his government to be more assertive with the Saudi government in view of their appalling human rights record.  This was prompted by the death penalty group which was concerned by the mounting tide of executions in that country.  We received a bland reply from both Mr Glen and from Mr Tobias Ellwood of the Foreign Office (FCO) saying that behind the scenes, representations were being made.

No sooner had we posted details of the letters from the two politicians, when news was received of plans to drop the requirement of ministers to obey foreign treaties.  Also, explicit reference to the abolition of the death penalty was removed from government policy.  We have in previous blogs pointed to the continuing sale of arms to Saudi Arabia despite their role in the war in Yemen.  Then came the astonishing news that British and American service personnel were present in the control centre for Saudi military actions.

All the while, the human rights record in Saudi remains dire and the year started with the mass execution of 47 people.  When Mr Ellwood was asked in Parliament to condemn the mass execution he declined to do so.  Today, we learn from the Independent newspaper that Mr Ellwood is reported in various Saudi and middle eastern newspapers as having urged Saudi Arabia to ‘do a better job at trumpeting its human rights successes’.  He was addressing the Saudi Arabian National Society for Human Rights [an English version is available] in Riyadh and added that ‘British people were unaware of the notable progress being made.’  Many human rights groups have said that Mr Ellwood’s remarks are astonishing.  FCO has denied that such remarks were made by him and the matter could easily be cleared up by publishing his speech.

Today, the Guardian newspaper published extracts from a leaked UN report into the airstrikes carried out by the Saudis on Yemen.  The report said that:

…many of the attacks involved multiple civilian objects [and that] of the 119 sorties the panel identified 146 targeted objects. There were three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters.

So far, 5,800 people have been killed in the conflict.  On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition Mr Jeremy Corbyn asked the Prime Minister for an independent inquiry into the policy on arms exports to Saudi Arabia in view of the UN report.  As the weeks have gone by, the drip, drip of revelations, the continued sale of arms to the Saudis, the presence of our military personnel in the control centre of the Saudi operations, our help in getting a Saudi to get onto the UN’s Human Rights Council, and speeches by a FCO minister, has painted a picture of complicity in a brutal conflict in Yemen and connivance in the politics of repression in Saudi itself.

From Mr Glen there has been silence.  His column in the Salisbury Journal this week refers to the Maldives [YouTube] and his involvement and concern about human rights abuses there is of course to be welcomed and applauded.  But when, we may ask, is he going to express concern about the much greater level of human rights violations and killings taking place in Saudi Arabia and Yemen?

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Sources: The Independent; Belfast Telegraph; Amnesty International; Guardian

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