Posts Tagged ‘Salisbury’


We had a short meeting this month because the meeting date coincided with the Evensong at the Cathedral.  The minutes are attached with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.

March minutes (Word)

The two speakers from south America at the SW Regional conference (Pic: Salisbury Amnesty)

 


Annual Evensong held in the Cathedral

Update: 14 March.  Ben Rogers has kindly sent us the text of his talk which is attached at the bottom of this post.

The Salisbury group is grateful to the Cathedral for holding an Evensong once a year marking the work of Amnesty International and enabling us to nominate a speaker during the course of the service.  About 60 attended last nights service.  For many years the Cathedral has provided space for the group to display each month an appeal for a Prisoner of Conscience.  This month it is Ahmed Mansoor a human rights defender and POC who is in prison in Abu Dhabi.  The Cathedral has a window dedicated to the work of Amnesty.

We were delighted to invite Benedict Rogers (pictured) to speak who, among other things, has a particular interest

Ben Rogers at Salisbury Cathedral (picture, Salisbury Amnesty)

in North  Korea.  Ben is East Asia Team Leader of CSW, a Christian charity which promotes religious freedom around the world.

He said that the UN regards North Korea to be in a category all of its own as far as human rights are concerned.  It violates every single human right.  As a member of CSW, they were the first to call for a commission of enquiry and two years later in 2014, the UN did so.

The gravity, scale and nature of abuses has no parallel in the modern world he said.  The report found that:

North Korea had committed crimes against humanity and manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect. These crimes entail “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.  Source, Wikipedia

In 2007, CSW produced a report A Case to Answer.  A Call to Act which concluded that the human rights situation in North Korea was a crime against humanity.   Although things seem bleak, he said there were some glimmers of light.  In a recent report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance, it was noted that North Koreans were getting more information about the outside world.  They were beginning to realise that life south of the border was better.  There was anecdotal evidence that prison guards did realise the world was watching.

The regime saw Christianity as a particular threat.  Anyone caught practising it faced severe punishment or could be executed.  If a carol was allowed it would only be ‘We three Kims of Orient are!’

Those who did manage to escape to China were sent back to face severe punishment in the prison camps.  There were around 200,000 thousand people in the prison camps he said.  He ended with the famous quotation mistakenly attributed to Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

Ben Rogers talk (Word)

 

 

 


Cathedral Evensong takes place this evening (Thursday 12th) at 5:30.  We are delighted to welcome Ben Rogers to give the address.  There will be an opportunity for participants to sign a petition on leaving if they wish.

Joining

If you were thinking of joining the group, this would be an opportunity to make yourself known even if you do not wish to take part in the service itself (Amnesty is not a religious group).  Several members will be around to great you.


This is an extract of the HRW 2020 report for Europe focusing on the UK.  Seeing all the issues grouped together in this way makes for shameful reading.

The UK’s planned exit from the EU (Brexit) strained democratic institutions and put human rights and the rule of law at risk.  In September, the government was forced by parliament to publish a key planning document outlining potential impacts of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement (known as “no-deal” Brexit).  Its publication raised serious rights concerns including those related to access to adequate food and medicine, fuel shortages, interruptions to social care for older people and people with disabilities, possible public disorder, and the risk of increased dissident activity in Northern Ireland. The government accepted that a “no deal Brexit” would have the greatest impact on economically vulnerable and marginalized groups.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled unlawful the government’s five-week suspension of parliament earlier the same month, leading to parliament’s recall.  The government was forced by law adopted by parliament in September to seek an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.  Government sources criticized the Supreme Court ruling and threatened to ignore the binding law requiring an extension request.

The extension was granted by the EU27, and the Brexit date at time of writing was the end of January 2020 (now taken place).  Parliament was dissolved in November after opposition parties agreed to a December 2019 general election (which had yet to take place at time of writing).

In May, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty published a report on the disproportionate negative impact of austerity-motivated spending cuts, combined with social security restructuring, on the rights of women, children, older people, and people with disabilities living on low incomes.

Reliance on emergency food assistance grew.  The country’s largest food bank charity network, the (Salisbury based)Trussell Trust, reported distributing 1.6 million parcels containing a three-day emergency supply of food across the country.  The Independent Food Aid Network reported that, at time of writing, at least 819 independent centres were also distributing food aid.

The UK continued to detain asylum seeking and migrant children.

In October legislation passed by the UK Parliament to decriminalize abortion and provide for marriage equality in Northern Ireland in 2020 came into force when the region’s devolved government failed to reconvene having been suspended since January 2017.

More than two years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 71, there has been little accountability for the deaths or the fire.   In October, the findings of the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire were published, focusing on the day of the fire.  A criminal investigation was ongoing at time of writing.

In February, a new counterterrorism law entered into force, including measures that criminalize viewing online content, overseas travel and support to terrorism and could result in human rights violations.  UK authorities continued to exercise powers to strip citizenship from UK nationals suspected of terrorism-related activity.

In July, the government refused to establish a judicial inquiry into UK complicity in the CIA-led torture and secret detention.  At time of writing, no one in the UK had been charged with a crime in connection with the abuses.  In November, a media investigation found evidence of a cover up by UK authorities of alleged war crimes by UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Human Rights Watch)


The minutes of the February group meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  They contain details of our activities and forthcoming events.  These are listed towards the end and are a good opportunity for someone thinking of joining to come along and make yourself known.

February minutes (Word)

Group meeting

Posted: February 13, 2020 in Group news
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the monthly group meeting takes place this evening but note it is in Attwood Road not Victoria Road.  Starts at 7:30 and members and supporters welcome.


Firm based in Porton accused of selling spy equipment to harsh regimes

Considerable interest has been aroused in the last month or so concerning the use of Huawei technology to provide 5G connectivity in the UK.  Other countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ group – USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – will not use this equipment because of fears of intrusion by the Chinese state.  The worry is that the Chinese will gain a backdoor entry into our messages, emails and the like thus compromising our security.  For weeks, the issue has been discussed and could well have repercussions as far as our relationship with the Americans is concerned.

It was not that long ago that the UK and USA were revealed to be invading people’s messages on an industrial scale via the Prism and Tempora programmes.  21 petabytes of data are downloaded a day and there is huge process involved in sifting and selecting the messages which have been intercepted.  It therefore seems inconsistent to be worrying about Chinese intrusion when our own governments are heavily involved in doing the same thing.  The difference is one is our own people and the others are Chinese.  It is claimed that only metadata is collected by GCHQ.

The UK government sponsors an exhibition of security equipment at an event called Security and Policing held at Farnborough.  It is a similar exhibition to DSEI which takes place in London – also supported by the UK government – where arms firms exhibit their wares.  The guest list of both events reveal a range of authoritarian regimes as customers keen to get access to weapons and security equipment with which to maintain their hold on power.  Huawei has achieved considerable publicity for something they claim does not and will not happen while, by contrast, surveillance which is happening receives almost no coverage at all.

What do we mean by … ?

Of course, a lot depends on what we mean by ‘police’ and ‘security’.  Police forces around the world need equipment with which to tackle organised crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and the like.  Countries might legitimately need equipment to intercept and interdict attempts to commit terrorist offences or attack their citizens.  The difference occurs when this equipment is used to silence critics of the regime, arrest and mistreat them or cause them to disappear.  If people who are peacefully protesting, seeking democracy, acting as human rights defenders or pursuing human rights, have their communications, emails and computers intercepted and compromised using UK manufactured kit then it can be argued this is wrong.  The government goes to great lengths to keep this activity confidential running the only closed event in the country, suggesting it knows that it is potentially damaging.  A member of the parliamentary Arms Export Committee, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was barred from entering the 2019 exhibition which he said was deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, here in Salisbury …

In the village of Porton, just outside Salisbury – the same village as in Porton Down – is a firm, Gamma TSE which makes this equipment Finfisher and the aptly called Finspy.  What it does was hard to discover exactly but thanks to Wikileaks, details of its equipment are available for all to see.  A pdf which provides comprehensive details of the firm’s spying capabilities to covertly extract data from a computer system, bypass password protection and obtain information from a bank are all described in great detail.  Examples of its extensive interception capabilities are described in information sheets:

The FinIntrusion Kit was used to break the WPA encryption of a Target’s home Wireless network and then monitor his Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, …) and Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, …) credentials, which enabled the investigators to remotely monitor these accounts from Headquarters without the need to be close to the Target.

Several customers used the FinIntrusion Kit to successfully compromise the security of networks and computer systems for offensive and defensive purposes using various Tools and Techniques.

The password ‘sniffer’ is described thus:

LAN/WLAN Active Password Sniffer
Captures even SSL-encrypted data like Webmail, Video Portals, Online-Banking and more.

It’s ability to gain access remotely:

Usage Example 1: Covert Operation
A source in an Organized Crime Group (OCG) was given a FinUSB Dongle that secretly extracted Account Credentials of Web and Email accounts and Microsoft Office documents from the Target Systems, while the OCG used the USB device to exchange regular files like Music, Video and Office Documents.

After returning the USB device to Headquarters the gathered data could be decrypted, analysed and used to constantly monitor the group remotely.

A worrying feature is the ability of Finspy to operate around the world:

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world for many years, and valuable intelligence has been gathered about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system it can be remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.  [our italics]

Since many dissidents or people in opposition to a particular regime have fled to Europe including the UK, it leaves open the question of whether this equipment is being used to monitor people now living in the UK.  This was a point made by Privacy International.

The firm also offers training and the list of courses tell their own chilling story:

Sample Course Subjects

· Profiling of Target Websites and Persons

· Tracing anonymous Emails

· Remote access to Webmail Accounts

· Security Assessment of Web-Servers & Web-Services

· Practical Software Exploitation

· Wireless IT Intrusion (WLAN/802.11 and Bluetooth)

· Attacks on critical Infrastructures

· Sniffing Data and User Credentials of Networks

· Monitoring Hot-Spots, Internet Cafés and Hotel Networks

· Intercepting and Recording Calls (VoIP and DECT)

· Cracking Password Hashes

The literature refers several times to ‘organised crime groups’ and this equipment is likely to be of value to police forces acting to stop such activity in their country.  The problem is that countries like Bahrain are likely to use these methods against democracy and human rights campaigners.

Implications

The law firm Leigh Day in London launched a claim in 2019 on behalf of four Bahraini nationals who had been targeted using information obtained using this technology.  Privacy International identified Gamma as having sold this technology to Bahrain:

In 2012, Citizen Lab, a think-tank operating out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, came across evidence suggesting that Gamma International, a multinational technology corporation with offices across the world, sold a form of malware called FinFisher to Bahrain. Bahraini activists, amongst others, were seriously concerned: FinFisher gives its operator complete access to a target’s computer and mobile phone. That kind of technology in the hands of a state like Bahrain, with its record of human rights abuse, would put at risk a great many people’s lives.

Gamma emphatically denied selling this kit to Bahrain.  However, documents subsequently discovered provided evidence that they had already done so.   The cruel treatment of these elderly individuals is described in an Amnesty report and includes the denial of medical treatment and medication.  A solicitor acting for Gamma says there is no evidence of the firm being involved in human rights abuses and they will defend the claim being made against them.

Gamma are not the only firm selling this equipment.  The UK government has been, and is planning to again, to run the secretive exhibition keeping close control over who attends and keeping anyone away who might question its ethics.  The UK government has made no comment on the actions of the Bahraini authorities, or the allegations of Gamma’s alleged involvement.  If the surveillance by the Bahraini authorities is carried out on computers located within the UK, it is unlawful.

It appears to be a worrying sign of increasing indifference by the UK government of the effects on ordinary people living under oppressive regimes who suffer from the use of arms and surveillance equipment supplied by firms based here in the Britain.  It is inconceivable that GCHQ is unaware of what this firm is doing and its client list around the world which includes several of these regimes.  This indifference is damaging to our reputation and parliamentarians should be asking searching questions of the minister.  The British government has many relationships with the Bahraini royal family.  The Queen and other members of the royal household meet quite regularly.  Today, (10 February 2020) it was reported that Liam Fox met the Bahraini crown prince to lobby on behalf of Petrofac, the owner of which is a major Conservative party donor (£800,000).  It seems quite clear that trade considerations trump human rights issues in government thinking.

Sources:  Amnesty International; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Citizen’s Lab (Canada); WikiLeaks; Gamma; VICE; the Guardian; Privacy International


If you want to join the Salisbury group you would be most welcome.  We meet every second Thursday (except August) in Victoria Road at 7:30.  Otherwise keep an eye on this site, on Facebook or Twitter and make yourself known at one our events.

 

 


Lively meeting this month and we were pleased to welcome another new member.  We discussed the death penalty report; North Korea; the UK government’s possible changes to the Human Rights Act and forthcoming events.  We also discussed the closure of the neighbouring New Forest group which we hope may not be permanent.  Next meeting on 13 February.

January minutes (Word)


If you are interested in human rights and would like to join us you would be very welcome.  You will see our events at the end of the minutes so making yourself known at one of those would be a way to join.  It is free to join the Salisbury group.  One of our concerns is the new government’s plans to possibly weaken human rights especially when we leave the EU so helping us with that would be appreciated.

 

Monthly meeting

Posted: January 6, 2020 in Group news
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The January meeting takes place as usual this Thursday 9th January at 7:30 in Victoria Road, Salisbury. Supporters welcome.


Happy New Year to our followers and supporters. This is likely to be an interesting year on the human rights front and we shall be keeping an eye on the new Conservative government’s wish to repeal or do something with the Human Rights Act which they dislike so. We do not know what is proposed – indeed it has been under threat for some years now but details of what is proposed are scarce – but with a large majority, they will be able to do more or less as they will.