Howlett Brown report on racism at Amnesty

23 Apr

As long-standing members of the Taunton Amnesty group, we would like to express our deep disappointment with the contents of the Howlett Brown report into allegations of racism and bullying at the International Secretariat of Amnesty and within Amnesty UK. We note that measures have been and continue to be put in place to root out this behaviour. We are angry that an organisation which works precisely to ensure justice for all has itself been found culpable in its own working practices.
Here in Taunton we  continue to believe in the work we do and have never encountered bullying or racism at local level. We warmly welcome people of all ethnicities to our meetings.

Report from our April meeting

21 Apr

Dana Kamour of Women Living Under Muslim Law gave a cogent and informative talk to our virtual meeting this month. Her particular focus was Afghanistan, but she emphasised that WLUML is a trans-national women’s organisation; it started in 1984.  There are complex political and cultural laws shaping women’s lives in Afghanistan, and policies are justified by invoking Muslim law.

The Taliban are opposed to women’s education, their rights tightly controlled. 28% of the Legislature are now women, but many women in public life have been assassinated. In ongoing negotiations women’s rights are at the mercy of agreement between the Taliban and other parties –  there are just four women among the 51 peace negotiators.

WLUML uses social media, webinars, lobbying and petitions which aim to educate public opinion –  but ultimately change has to come from within Afghanistan itself.  For more information check their website, www.wluml.org.

We heard reports on Amnesty campaigns – there is much concern about the proposed Immigration Bill, currently under consultation. There’s a wide-reaching Festival of Social Justice in the Midlands, promoted by Amnesty, and a Football Welcomes [Refugees] Campaign underway.

Reports too from our own members:  letters have been written on behalf of Prisoners of Conscience in Morocco, and we are combining with the Tiverton Group to write postcards of support each month to jailed human rights lawyer Azza SolimanAmnesty Feminists are encouraging us to sign petitions on behalf of Iranian lawyer Nazreem Sotoudeh and women in Belarus who are suffering abuse and reprisals for legal anti-Government protests.

Our Book of the Month has turned into two films and a book:

The Assault on Truth by journalist Peter Oborne, featuring Johnson and Trump

The Mauritanian, about Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi

and Clemency, about US Death Row warder Bernadine Williams

Our next online meeting will be at 7.30pm on Tuesday 11 May. Newcomers are most welcome.  Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for details.

Update from Amnesty Feminist Network

25 Mar

It’s nearly a year since the Amnesty Feminist Network has been in touch with Amnesty groups across the country as activities had to be paused due to the pandemic. It is now up and running again and planning for the year ahead. It will soon be relaunching the WearWhatYouWant campaign and more information about this will follow in due course.

International Women’s Day Event

To mark International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March, an on-line Zoom event was held. Introduced by Lo from the Amnesty Feminist Network, with a Keynote speech from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, a panel of four Polish human rights activists described their experiences of arrest and court appearances. These very courageous and inspiring young women were recently acquitted of charges of “offending religious beliefs” after they put up posters which showed the Virgin Mary with a halo in the rainbow colours of the LGTBTI Pride flag. They described the rise of far-right groups and organisations in Poland which are dehumanising LGTBTI people along with how they had personally suffered violence and racist abuse at the hands of the police during demonstrations. They said how important it was to them to know that they had had international support.

Marta Lempart

As leader of the Polish Women’s Strike, Marta Lempart has been involved in many nationwide protests against a near total abortion ban in Poland and was charged with criminal felonies earlier this month.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin’s prison sentence officially ended on Sunday, 7th March and she had her ankle tag removed but was also told that she would have to face further charges in court on Sunday 14th March. It seems that further charges are being brought against her because of her role in a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy a few years ago. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has demanded her immediate release and there has been a higher media profile about her recently including an interview with her sister-in-law, who is a GP in Wales, on Radio Wales’ s current affairs programme, ‘Sunday Supplement’ and again on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’. Her husband, Richard, has also been interviewed again recently on television and was filmed handing in another petition to Downing Street; he was accompanied with people holding supportive Amnesty placards.

Nassima al-Sada sentenced

Women’s Rights Defender, Nassima al-Sada, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia because she campaigned for an end to the male guardianship system and the driving ban on women. She has been sentenced to five years in prison. This has been backdated to when she was first arrested in 2018, so, with two years’ suspension, it is expected that she will be released in June this year.

Iranian jailings

Three woman, Monireh, Yasaman and Mojgan, have been jailed in Iran for over thirty years between them for ‘inciting prostitution’ by not wearing the veil. There is a link to an email petition to the Head of Judiciary in Iran on the main Amnesty website here to protest against this court ruling.

Nahid Taghavi

Sixty-six year old German-Iranian national, Nahid Taghavi, has been arbitrarily detained in Tehran’s Evin prison since October 2020. With a serious medical condition, she is at high risk of severe illness or death, if she contracts Covid. There is an action on the main Amnesty website here calling on her release.

Loujain al-Hathlow

We finish this month with some very good news – Human Rights defender, Loujain al-Hathlow who campaigned for Saudi women to be able to drive was released earlier this month after nearly three years in jail. During her detention, Loujain was tortured and sexually harassed, held in solitary confinement and denied access to her family for months at a time.

Report from our March meeting

24 Mar

The Calais Jungle – the place where refugees and migrants trying to cross the Channel to the UK end up.  We’ve all heard of it, and conditions there for the inhabitants are every bit as bad as you had supposed.

Two young charity workers came to speak to our meeting about their work there. They charted the camp’s fluctuating fortunes, from an official area in an ex-landfill site  which had expanded to 7,000 people by 2016 – when it was bulldozed, the inhabitants taken elsewhere and their belongings thrown out.

Since then, many smaller camps have grown up in the area, but constantly harried by the police: people are moved on, their belongings confiscated, charity workers and NGOs discouraged. There is no security.  Periodically there are larger evictions, with people bussed away to other parts of France.  The aim is to create a hostile environment, where any sense of security is undermined.

The living conditions are horrendous; people die; covid is a big problem. Yet people stick it out, and more come.  Why? Look at Syria, look at conflict in Afghanistan and elsewhere – people are displaced and flee to what they hope will be a better life.

In other business we heard about Nazanin in Iran – still waiting for a decision from yet another court appearance after her original sentence had been served.  International Women’s Day was marked by an online panel discussion by three female Polish human rights defenders; there has been a worrying rise of the far right in Poland. The discussion was introduced by Kate Allen, AIUK’s Director.

There are signs that Amnesty’s de facto suspension in India may be unblocked; moves are being made to unfreeze AI’s bank accounts there, and there is possibly some movement in the cases of the imprisoned BK 16 men, victims it seems of India’s growing ‘electoral autocracy’.

Combining with another Group to work for prisoners in the Middle East and North Africa were discussed. Discussion of Amnesty’s position on Russian Alexei Navalny had to be deferred to another day.

Our next online meeting is at 7.30pm on Tuesday 13 April, and will include a talk on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.  All welcome – email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for details.

Report from our February meeting

14 Feb

Amnesty International is 60 this year!  Founded in London in 1961 by lawyer Peter Benenson it has grown to an international, and internationally respected, organisation. He wrote then: ‘Only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.’ 

Members have been asked for early memories of Amnesty.  Do you have any? Do let us know.

We held our AGM this month, conducted remotely. New appointments of officers were made, and the pros and cons of working remotely discussed. It was suggested it would be good to link up with another Amnesty group to work on people in the Individuals at Risk category. We plan future speakers on such topics as modern slavery and South East Asia.

We heard reports from members.  Amnesty’s work in India is still suspended, its Bank account frozen by the Indian Government. Nonetheless there are still contacts over human rights issues, for example the protests over recently introduced farm laws and the BK 16 group. AIUK has received a letter of thanks from recently-freed Ali Aarrass of Morocco.

We had an update on the inoffensively named Overseas Operations Bill  – the government is attempting to pass a Bill that would decriminalise torture and war crimes by the military.

 In a grotesque end to his Presidency, Donald Trump presided over ten Federal executions in 2020, going completely against the tide of public opinion and State law.  We hope for changes under President Biden.

Book of the month: The Places in Between by Rory Stewart, a classic account of his 2002 solo walk from Herat to Kabul.

We meet (online) at 7.30 on the second Tuesday of the month – visitors are always welcome. Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for details.

Nazanin and Anoosheh

20 Jan

Many of you will have been following the distressing case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British woman detained in Iran for nearly five years after a grossly unfair trial. Nazanin is just one UK-Iranian dual-national targeted by the Iranian authorities in recent years.

 Another is Anoosheh Ashoori, a 66-year-old former engineer subjected to a sham trial that involved “confessions” extracted under torture. Amnesty is working closely with both families to press the UK government to do more to secure Nazanin and Anoosheh’s release.

The former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently criticised the government for not doing more to help them. He’s right, and Amnesty will be pressing for more action in the coming weeks. You can stay in touch with Amnesty’s campaign for Nazanin and Anoosheh here, where you can also watch a very moving ten-minute film with the families made shortly before Christmas.

Overseas Operations Bill

19 Jan

The Overseas Operations Bill that the government is attempting to pass is a cause for concern. It would decriminalise torture and war crimes, and could make it even harder to prosecute cases committed by British soldiers more than five years ago. It has been described as an attempt to put the military above the law.

Read Amnesty’s blog ‘Five things you need to know about the Overseas Operations Bill’ here and sign the online petition demanding that the government does not decriminalise war crimes and torture.

Report from our November meeting

9 Dec

Our meeting was as usual a virtual one.  We meet on the second Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm. Newcomers are always welcome – you’ll find joining instructions on our website, amnestytaunton.com.

Our November meeting heard reports on the Death Penalty; it seems probable that, with an incoming Democratic President in the US, Federal executions will cease. Some members were planning to take part in a Twitterstorm, bombarding the Egyptian authorities with tweets on the birthday of Ibrahim Ezz El-Din who turned 28 on Sunday 15 November 2020.  By then he will have been in prison in Egypt for 17 months simply for standing up for housing rights. 

Amnesty’s work in India has had to cease because AI India’s bank accounts have been suspended by the authorities.  Julie Verhaar, Acting General Secretary of AI said:

 “This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian Government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now. However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to, and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India. We will be working resolutely to determine how Amnesty International can continue to play our part within the human rights movement in India for years to come.”

This is the time of year that Amnesty holds its Write for Rights events, but things will be a little different this year. However, we are still sending a card, email or tweet of support to ten individuals or groups of people whose freedoms are being denied, and writing to those in power to challenge their actions.

We will be holding a Vigil in Taunton town centre on 12 December from 10-11am, focussing particularly on the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer sentenced to a horrific 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. Write for Rights materials and advice will be available at the vigil. Please join us – we will be standing near the Tourist Information Office at the bottom of the High Street. Please wear a mask and we will maintain 2m social distancing. If you want to find out about Nasrin in advance – here is a link.  https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/free-nasrin-sotoudeh

Report from our September meeting

15 Sep

Our September meeting was as usual a virtual one.  Our speaker was Cherry Bird, the AI UK South West Regional representative. She spoke of how Amnesty has changed to keep abreast of the mood and demands of the times.  AI UK’s AGM later this month is a virtual one.

There is more emphasis on actions for human rights and prisoners of conscience than letter writing, and greater use of social media. Vigils are a useful tool for consciousness raising. Amnesty is keen to engage younger members – they have a Student Action network group – and to keep them engaged.  Where are those past members of University Groups?

But letter writing is still an essential tool.  For our actions this month we wrote to the Cambodian authorities on behalf of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai activist in exile, who has reportedly been abducted from Cambodia where he was living.  Nine such activists have been abducted in recent years; two of them are known to be dead.

We emailed the Turkish authorities on behalf of Eren Keskin, a brave and principled human rights lawyer. She has faced repeated harassment over the years, and is now in danger of imprisonment.

We heard reports from members on the Death Penalty, the Middle East and North Africa, India and Amnesty Feminists, working on issues involving women. We heard again of the appalling case of Nasrin Soutedeh, Iranian human rights lawyer, sentenced last year to a 38 year term and 148 lashes; she is currently on hunger strike.  Letters were written on behalf of Egyptian human rights lawyer, Hoda Abdel Moneim, held for many months in pre-trial detention, and Moroccan journalist Omar Radi, harassed  for his political investigations. 

Our Book of the Month is Somerset Executions by A M Gould – ‘If history were told in the form of stories it would never be forgotten’ wrote Kipling, and this book is a case in point.

We meet online at 7.30pm on the second Tuesday of each month, and all are welcome.  Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com if you would like details of how to join the meeting.

Report from our July meeting

31 Jul

amnesty group (1)Our July meeting was held virtually – the new normal! We were joined by Helen Clarke of AIUK, Country Coordinator for Turkey, to describe her work, which is to keep abreast of all that is going on in Turkey from a Human Rights point of view and translate this into information and action.

She outlined some current cases in Turkey: Taner Kilic, the ex-head of AI Turkey was sentenced this month to 6 years in prison; Eren Kiskin, another human rights activist, one of Amnesty’s Individuals at Risk, threatened and victimized; writer Ahmet Altan who had emerged from prison after a sentence of some years, only to be re-arrested the following day on a different charge and returned to prison.

This month’s actions are all online.  We were asked to sign appeals on a variety of subjects: a call for social media companies to show more restraint and sensitivity in the images they show of violent events;  an appeal for urgent care for dual British-Iranian national Anoosheh Ashoori serving a lengthy prison sentence after a grossly unfair trial, and an appeal to Russia to vote at the Security Council for renewal of vital cross-border aid for refugees in north-west  Syria.

We heard reports from members of work on India, Egypt and the death penalty. Member Ben Grant had had a discussion with Taunton MP Rebecca Pow focusing on the Families Together campaign, and pointing out the contradictions in the Government’s position on child refugees.

Our Book of the Month is No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus prison by Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist asylum seeker imprisoned for 4 years on Christmas Island by the Australian Government.

Our next regular meeting (still virtual) will be at 7.30pm on Tuesday 8 September. Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com if you’d like to join us.

%d bloggers like this: