Tag Archives: group meeting

Report from our April meeting

22 Apr

At our April meeting our first thoughts were again with the Ukraine crisis. ‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a manifest violation of the United Nations Charter and an act of aggression that is a crime under international law’ said Amnesty, as it called for all those involved in this crime to be held accountable for these violations.

There were online petitions and actions to take (see the April Local Groups newsletter or amnesty.org.uk for this and all other actions mentioned), and a call to the UK government, among other things, to fulfill its commitment to provide sanctuary to 200,000 Ukranian refugees in the UK by providing safe travel routes and a temporary visa waiver.  Currently the Government’s  ‘Homes for Ukranians’ scheme is not going smoothly.

This is a concern which fed into our discussion of the Nationality and Borders Bill, recently given a rough time in the House of Lords, where the Government has lost 12 of 13 votes taken. Amnesty describes it as a ‘piece of legislative vandalism which will wreck the UK’s asylum system, undermine international law and criminalise people for attempting to reach a place of safety’. The Commons is ignoring the Lords’ amendments.

A problem for AIUK is that its planned campaigns for 2022 are in danger of being squeezed out by the Ukraine crisis, but we discussed moves to end Israeli Apartheid and the campaign to save the Human Rights Act (threatened by the so-called British Bill of Rights).

One piece of wonderful news was being able to welcome back Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from Iran – news somewhat damped by the continuing arbitrary detention of Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof – we were urged to continue lobbying for them.

Two new cases to act on: Marfa Rabkova, a volunteer network coordinator for the Belarus human rights group Viasna, detained since September 2020 for exposing the Belarusian police’s brutality against peaceful demonstrators after the disputed Presidential election in that year. She faces a possible 20 year goal sentence – we’re asked to write to her and to the authorities.

Secondly, imprisoned French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hammouri, a field researcher for Palestinian NGO Addameer, persistently harassed by the Israeli authorities since 2002.  A guide was provided for actions to help his case.

The Taunton Group is continuing a rolling action of letters for imprisoned Egyptian housing officer Ibrahim Ezz El-Din.  Our North Africa co-ordinator had written a series of protests about Egypt’s breaking of its own laws in handling his case – photographed for display on Twitter and our own blog.

Some members ran a Football Welcomes Refugees stall at Huish Tigers youth matches this month – lots of  positive interest from leader Gavin and uptake of stickers and badges.

Our India co-ordinator brought in cards to send to imprisoned members of the BK15.  We had an update on the Death penalty and discussed future stalls and publicity

Our chosen Book of the Month is The Conservative Human Rights Revolution by Marco Duranti; it gives an account of post-war Human Rights and the ECHR, driven by conservatives concerned about controlling left-wing politics.

Join us for our next meeting at the Quaker Meeting House, Bath Place in Taunton – second Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm.

Report from our March meeting

19 Mar

The mood of our March meeting was inevitably dominated by the conflict in Ukraine. The situation is moving so fast that the comments made by AIUK at the beginning of the month have been overtaken by further developments in this human tragedy.

Internationally AI has formally declared a Crisis Response; an Urgent Crisis Coordination Team on Ukraine has been established, with work under way on the human rights situation and refugees, but also on evidence gathering, advocacy and security planning.

The invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and an act of aggression under international law. When the Local Groups newsletter came out at the beginning of the month Amnesty was verifying the use of cluster munitions in a strike on a nursery;  since then such acts have been repeated again and again.

The Ukraine crisis has highlighted Amnesty’s concerns with the Nationality and Borders Bill.  The Government claims it will break the business model of people smugglers, but instead of targeting them, this bill targets their victims.  It fails to provide safe and legal routes into the UK, meaning more and more people seeking asylum will be forced, out of desperation, into the hands of smuggling gangs.

We discussed the campaign, initiated by two of our group, for imprisoned Egyptian housing worker Ibrahim Ezz el-Din.  A blitz of daily letters to officials, to him and to his family is planned for the next three months – see here for more details of how you can help.

The Government’s consultation period on planned changes to the Human Rights Act has now ended.  Some members submitted their comments, and wrote to Taunton’s MP, Rebecca Pow, amid concerns that the proposed reforms will gut the Act and limit not only what rights are but who gets them.

We heard reports from our co-ordinators on North Africa, India and the Death Penalty.  A letter was sent to the President of the Tunisian Republic on behalf of former Tunisian MP Yassin Ayari imprisoned in absentia for criticism of the regime. 

Our Media of the Month is ‘Munich – the Edge of War’ a Netflix drama about the 1938 Munich Conference based on the novel by Robert Harris.

Meetings are now firmly back in person; the next will be on 12 April at 7.30pm at the Quaker Meeting House, Bath Place, Taunton. All welcome!

February meeting and AGM report

13 Feb

We met in person for our AGM. Our Chair reported on another year shaped by the pandemic. However, he reflected that we had nonetheless managed to host a number of speakers on a good variety of topics: the Calais Jungle, Women living under Muslim Law, the Human Rights Act.  There were some notable initiatives, for example contacts with Taunton Town Football Club who joined forces with members of Amnesty Taunton to raise awareness about refugees.

Write for Rights was marked by resilient members of the Group running a stall in Taunton High Street during Storm Arwen – we have a photo taken after the gazebo cover had blown away!

No meaningful fund-raising has been possible during the pandemic and it has been hard to get publicity in the local press, which appears (due to its own pressures admittedly) to have given up on reporting on the activities of local groups.

We had a full Agenda for our regular meeting. After intensive research and legal analysis Amnesty has launched a new campaign to highlight Israel’s ‘crime against humanity of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians’: ‘Demolish Apartheid, not Palestinian Homes.’

A new online action is planned against the Nationality and Borders Bill. ‘Amongst the many other areas of concern, the Bill seeks to largely shut down the UK’s asylum system and criminalise and punish refugees.’

A new activist-led campaign on Human Rights in Afghanistan is being launched; one  particular aim is to ensure that Afghan women’s rights remain in the public eye.

The Human Rights Act is under threat; the Government has launched a consultation and invites public comment. Amnesty is anxious its members should voice their views, and will shortly have a link on its website.  Links to all the above topics (and many others) are also available amnesty.org.uk

A steady stream of Urgent Actions for North Africa continues.  As a group we are focusing on one particular case, Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, with the aim of blitzing the Egyptian authorities with letters, underlining that they are breaking their own laws in this detention.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 8 March at 7.30pm in the Quaker Meeting House, Taunton.

Report from our October meeting

19 Oct
Rob Wenham of Taunton Town Football Club joining forces with members of Amnesty Taunton to raise awareness about refugees.

AIUK is extremely concerned about the assault on human rights – in our own country. A week of action for Human Rights in the UK is planned. The very restrictive Policing Bill is being drafted; the Human Rights Act is under review,  and the Nationality and Borders Bill is now back in the House of Commons – ‘a cruel piece of legislation which, if enforced, would largely shut down the UK asylum system…’.

But here in Taunton we do have some reasons to be glad, as Amnesty’s Welcome Refugees has been actively endorsed.  Taunton Town Football Club’s Community Engagement Project kicked off in September.  “It has a variety of aims which include promoting and encouraging health, fitness, and well-being, and forming community links with individuals and groups within the immediate local community and across the wider Taunton area.” One of those groups is Amnesty; two of our members were invited to last weekend’s game and we’ve been greatly encouraged by the positive and welcoming atmosphere of the project.

Demand justice for the El Hiblu 3! We signed a petition to the Maltese Government asking for the release of three African teenagers from Libya, falsely accused of hijacking a rescue ship, the El Hiblu.

We heard reports from those responsible for our Campaigns: the usual tide of wretched treatment for political prisoners in Morocco and Egypt; two men executed in the US, one having been in a Texas gaol for 28 years; 246 executions in Iran last year; a student anti-monarchy protester, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul jailed and on hunger strike in Thailand.

Our Media of the Month is ‘Ridley Road’, a BBC drama about the fight of the Jewish community against the resurgence of English fascism in 1960’s London. 

Our next meeting will be on 9 November at the Quaker Meeting House in Bath Place.  Follow us too on Facebook and amnestytaunton.com.  Visitors are always welcome.

Report from our September meeting

28 Sep

A landmark meeting – after 18 months we dared to meet in person, and it did give a much better feeling than Zoom or Teams!

Aser Mohamed, then a child of 14, was first arrested, tortured and imprisoned in 2016 in Egypt.  He has since been sentenced to 10 years for membership of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. We asked for his immediate release and an investigation into his treatment.  We signed letters and created doves of peace to send on his behalf to the Egyptian Ambassador to London, and to President Al Sisi of Egypt.

The general situation in Egypt remains threatening.  12 men are facing the death penalty for actions in 2013; women influencers are being convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.  However a major piece of good news is that all charges against Human Rights lawyer Azza Soliman have been dropped, and her travel ban lifted.

We discussed the dangerous situation in Afghanistan, and how to mobilise opinion and effective action from the UK Government in rescuing and giving sanctuary to Afghans in danger.

In India there have been no developments in the BK16 human rights defenders, but a heartening message has come to the mid-Devon group from one of them, Vernon Gonsalves, a 61 year old writer, professor and trade union activist:

“Heartfelt thanks for the cards and letters of solidarity you have been sending. Words are indeed powerful means of support – and don’t we all need support always – though I must say we have never, through these 3 years, been allowed to feel alone. It’s persons like you who keep reminding us that the path towards justice may be long, but won’t be lonely.”

The 3 part ITV series on the Stephen Lawrence case was recommended  – ‘Stephen’, a drama about Doreen and Neville Lawrence’s crusade to achieve justice for their son. 

We meet on the second Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in the Friends Meeting House in Bath Place – visitors always welcome. Email: amnestytaunton@gmail.com for further details. Follow us too on Facebook  and at amnestytaunton.com

Report from our July meeting

28 Jul

Human Rights are at the very core of Amnesty’s existence. Anne Walker of AIUK spoke to our online meeting this month about the Human Rights Act. 

She gave a cogent account of its development from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, a direct reaction to the horrors of WW2. In 1953 came the European Convention on Human Rights, one of the chief drafters being Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, a Nuremburg prosecutor. Stemming from this the European Court of Human Rights was set up by the ten founding members (now 47) of the Council of Europe. The UK was at the heart of its foundation.

In 1998 this was given additional force in the UK by the Human Rights Act, which places obligations on the state to respect the rights of individuals.  This has had an unjustifiably bad press in the UK which has attempted to trivialise it, despite its many instances of helping the individual – for example re-enforcing the rights of elderly couples to stay together in care homes. Amnesty believes the British public needs better information on human rights and the Act.

AIUK are very concerned about proposed weakening of the Act and are committed to us remaining a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

We discussed other issues: excessive confinement to the cells in UK prisons during the pandemic; continuing repression of the Uyghurs in China; and a pressure for a quicker provision of covid vaccinations for the Nepalese population.

Our Middle East co-ordinator has written to President al-Sisi of Egypt about the plight of 12 men at risk of execution because of their involvement in protests in 2013 about then President Morsi; we discussed other cases in Egypt.

Our co-ordinator on India continues to monitor the case of the BK16, a group of jailed academics and activists; a twitter storm was organised last month to rouse the Indian authorities. One of the group, Father Swamy, aged 84, has died in prison of Parkinson’s disease and covid, a direct result of the inhumane way in which the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is being implemented to lock up activists without trial.

The month’s chosen media is a TV documentary, The Violence Paradox, its contention that we are – ironically – living through one of the most peaceful eras of human existence.

Report from our June meeting

19 Jun

14 to 20 June is Refugee Week, looking at the plight of refugees world wide. Its theme is ‘You cannot walk alone’, remembering Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech of 1963.

Amnesty are highlighting a few of its many aspects, continuing ‘Football Welcomes’, something we have been discussing here in Taunton.  On World Refugee Day, 20 June, there will be a vigil outside the Danish Embassy in London protesting against Denmark’s plan to deport refugees from Syria back to Damascus,  where they will be at high risk of arrest and torture. We were asked to write messages in support.

An ever-present stain on the world’s conscience is what has happened to Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar (Burma) to Bangladesh.  We were asked to sign a petition urging the Bangladesh Government to ‘protect, respect and fulfill their rights’ and ensure their participation in the decisions that affect them.

Our North Africa co-ordinator has been writing letters on behalf of journalists, lawyers and other human right supporters in Egypt and Morocco, countries which stand out for their disregard of human rights.  Our India co-ordinator reported on online actions taking place via Twitter last weekend for the BK16 prisoners of conscience.

We were asked to put pressure on the US after the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. ‘As Israel’s closest ally, the US has a responsibility to pressure Israel to end and redress its systematic violations against Palestinians’.

Five of our members took part in the ‘Kill the Bill’ vigil on 5 June, to protest about the proposed powers to be given to the police under the planned Police Crime Courts and Sentencing bill, which it is feared will aim to silence protest.

Our Books of the Month are by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands – East West Street and The Ratline.

Our next online meeting is at 7.30pm on Tuesday 13 July – all are welcome.  Email amnestytaunton@gmail.com for 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 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.

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