Tag Archives: Amnesty

Report from our May meeting

28 May

April was Amnesty UK’s ‘Football Welcomes’ month: ‘Our Football Welcomes programme celebrates the contribution players with a refugee background make to the beautiful game, and the positive role football can play in bringing people together and creating more welcoming communities.’ One of our members approached Taunton Town on the subject and got a wonderfully positive result from the club’s Rob Wenham. He’s anxious for more community involvement and plans to work on this with Taunton Welcomes Refugees.

We were reminded too that June 14-22 is Refugee Week, something to remember at a time when the Government is proposing a fatal dismembering of the UK’s asylum system.

This month’s speaker was Owen Collins of the Cardiff Group who is standing as a candidate for AIUK board; it was useful to put to him our thoughts about how local groups could be better supported by the Board.

We were asked to put our names to a number of petitions and letters – on UK nationals held in Iran, on the persecuted Uyghur peoples in China and on a Russian journalist, Elena Milashina, a reporter for the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who is now facing death threats for her articles.

We received reports on the Death Penalty (the situation is improving in the US) and the situation in Morocco. Amnesty Feminists reported the freeing of Saudi Women’s Rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, but under harsh parole conditions.  In India, under the rule of Nahendra Modi, little has changed for the BK16 group.  An article by writer Arundhati Roy in the Guardian, ‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’, was recommended.

Our next meeting, still online, will be at 7.30pm on Tuesday 8 June – all are welcome. Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for further details.

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.

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 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 June meeting

30 Jun

As with so many of us at present, all our actions and meetings have been at a distance.  Our June meeting was again a virtual one.

EJ4r7LCXkAAldlcThis month’s action was for Pakistani human rights defender and researcher Muhammad Idris Khattak (pictured) who was ‘disappeared’ in November 2019.  Nothing has been heard of him since, and his family is extremely concerned for his well-being – he is a diabetic needing daily medication, and at risk of course from Covid-19. The disappeared are at risk of torture and even death. If they are released, the physical and psychological scars endure. Disappearances are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families, but entire societies. Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law and, if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, they constitute a crime against humanity. We emailed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on his behalf; his government promised to criminalise enforced disappearances, but nothing has been done.

We were asked to sign petitions highlighting the 120% increase in reports of  domestic abuse under lockdown; the difficulty accessing abortion under lockdown for women in Northern Ireland, and the gross 38 year sentence and 148 lashes imposed on Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh for her work defending women’s human rights.

We heard reports on the Middle East and North Africa, the Death Penalty and India, and discussed the Black Lives Matter protests.

Our Book of the Month is Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands.

Our next meeting will be a virtual one on 14 July at 7.30pm; Helen Clarke of AIUK will talk on the human rights situation in Turkey. Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com if you would like to join us.

Report from our May meeting

22 May

Taunton AI virtual meeting - MayIn tune with the times we held our second online virtual meeting this month, and followed up several Monthly Actions, influenced by the current crisis.

Covid-19 is exacerbating a domestic abuse crisis in the UK. Lockdown has seen a huge surge in calls (up 120%) to domestic abuse services and a reported increase in domestic abuse killings. We wrote letters and signed a petition on the Government’s duty to protect all its citizens as the Domestic Abuse Bill passes through Parliament.

We discussed and resolved to write letters on the case of Russian journalist Elena Milashina, who has received death threats from Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov after publishing an article about the spread of Covid-19 in Chechnya.

In India the crackdown on dissidents continues. Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Safoora Zargar, who is three months pregnant, have been arrested for peacefully protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of the Constitution of India and international human rights law. Detained under the repressive Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the three can be held without charge for up to 180 days or even more, a duration far exceeding international standards. We were urged to write on their behalf to the Minister of Home Affairs.

We listened to detailed reports on the Middle East and North Africa (Ali Aarrass of Morocco has finally been released after 12 years) and on the Death Penalty.

The Death Penalty file makes wretched, depressing reading.  We were asked to email on behalf of Hew Yoo Wah of Malaysia, arrested at the age of 20 for drugs offences, and awaiting execution 14 years later. Likewise for Billy Joe Wardlow of Texas, arrested for murder at the age of 18, and still on death row 27 years later.

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 9 June and will also be online.  If you would like to join us, please email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for details.

Report from our April meeting

24 Apr

Distant_but_together_-_web_copyDespite the current lockdown measures we were able to hold a virtual meeting from our own homes, and, thanks to the system set up, managed to communicate successfully.

Amnesty UK have suggested a number of supportive remote actions we could take. Solidarity is at the heart of much of what Amnesty does, and they are calling for our support in getting the Government to protect those at particSUMW_-_placardsular risk from Covid-19: women who are victims of domestic abuse, refugees and migrants, and, crucially, essential workers who need proper support and protective equipment.

Ben Grant gave a presentation on “Families Together”, based on the exhibition in Taunton Library (illustrated with drawings by children from Parkfield School), based on the premise that Refugee Children should be allowed to sponsor their families to join them in the UK. In 2018 a Bill to achieve this was passed by a resounding majority of 131; Taunton’s MP, Rebecca Pow, took part but, sadly, filibustered against it.  The Bill was lost in the Brexit manoeuverings, but there is now a simple Bill to rectify the position in the House of Lords. The UK’s current position is in contravention of international law.

We heard reports on the Middle East and North Africa, the Death Penalty and Amnesty Feminists.

Alun gave a report on India; the BK9 (9 activists fighting for the rights of the poorest and most marginalised communities in the country) have become the BK11; letters and emails have been written to the authorities on their behalf.

Driven by events, “La Peste” by Albert Camus was chosen as Book of the Month. Many have interpreted it as an allegorical representation of French Resistance to Nazi occupation in WW2; today we may have another take on it – surely the hallmark of a great work of art.

Our next meeting is at 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 May via video link. If you would like to join us, please email amnestytaunton@gmail.com

 

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