Tag Archives: group meeting

Next Taunton Amnesty meeting

7 May

Our next monthly meeting will be on Tuesday 9th May at 7:30pm in The Quaker Meeting House, Bath Place, Taunton – all welcome. If you’d like to join remotely via Teams then please email amnestytaunton@gmail.com and we’ll send you a link.

Hope to see you there!

Report from our November meeting and Write for Rights

1 Dec

Cherry Bird, AIUK’s Country Co-ordinator for South East Asia, gave a talk on Sri Lanka, a once peaceful and prosperous country now mired in conflict. For decades there have been tensions between the majority Sinhalese, Buddhist population and the Tamil minority who are mainly Hindu.  The Tamils are poorer and have felt excluded – remember the Tamil Tigers?

The Civil War  lasted for 25 years, with a draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act enacted in 1979. Amnesty is concerned at the very high number of disappearances – estimated at 60,000.  More recently the country has been ruled, in turn, by the Rajapaska brothers, described as muscular populists. Their time has now passed (one has fled the country) and a new president elected – Ramil Wickremesinghe. He has a lot to sort out.

Cherry reminded us that there’s a Regional Conference in Exeter next March – details to follow.

Members updated the meeting on appeals for a number of political prisoners, most prominently Alaa Abdul Fattah, imprisoned in Egypt and on prolonged hunger strike which has come to a head during the COP 27 conference.  His fate is still uncertain.

As usual our own country co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa had been busy: she has written for Moroccan Rida Benotmane, charged with putting up critical Facebook posts. Another Moroccan, Fatimah Kassim is in solitary confinement and has now gone on hunger strike. Mohammed Ben Lima of Algeria has been sentenced to death in absentia, but is now being extradited by Spain.

Cherry made the point that writing to Embassies is an effective way of communicating.  Amnesty’s programme on Kashmir is about to be re-launched. What pressure can be brought to bear on India for their human rights violations in the area?  The UK has trade agreements with them.

Write for Rights

November/December bring us round to Amnesty’s annual letter writing campaign, Write for Rights.  We will have a stall in St Mary Magdalene Church in the town centre from 10am-2pm on Saturday 10 December, which, most appropriately, is Human Rights Day. We will break from 12.30 to 1.30 when the church has a lunchtime concert, Opera Muses.

There’ll be no other December meeting – it would be good to see you on Saturday 10 December, when we’ll have information about this year’s Write for Rights cases.  Come along and write a card to a prisoner of conscience.

Next meeting at the Quaker Meeting House will be Tuesday 10 Jan at 7.30pm.

Report from our September meeting

27 Sep

Garry Ettle, AIUK’s Country Coordinator for Israel and the Occupied Territories, gave us an online talk – ‘End Israeli Apartheid’. Amnesty has recently published a detailed report on this topic, Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians, and is promoting this as one of its current campaigns.

‘Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, successive governments have created and maintained a system of laws, policies, and practices designed to oppress and dominate Palestinians. This system plays out in different ways across the different areas where Israel exercises control over Palestinians’ rights. However, the intent is always the same: to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.’

There are four ways the Israeli authorities enact this system: by fragmentation, dispossession, segregation and deprivation. Garry gave many examples of how this plays out and ran some troubling illustrative video clips of Palestinian repression.

 The aim of AI’s campaign is to increase general awareness, stimulate recognition and foster action.  There needs to be far greater public awareness to put pressure on not only Israel but our own government. There is an online petition you can sign here.

Some of our members are still away and couldn’t report, but we heard reports on the Death Penalty and an update on the human rights situation in India. The crackdown on Amnesty in India continues. The case of the BK15 has been our particular concern; we continued to send  cards, prepared by one of our members,  to some of the BK group.

An update on dual national British/Egyptian Alaa Abdelfattah, long a prisoner of conscience, gave a worrying picture.  Prominent since the events of the Arab Spring in 2011, he has been on hunger strike for months; he has told his mother he expects to die in prison.  Amnesty is currently encouraging members to write to their MPs on his behalf.

Media of the month – the 2017 The Viceroy’s House, available on Netflix, was recommended; it tells the story of the last days of the British Raj, the Mountbattens and partition.

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 11 October at 7.30pm in the Friends Meeting House, Bath Place, Taunton.  All are welcome!

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.

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