Tag Archives: group

Report from our May meeting

27 May

The main focus of this month’s meeting was a Zoom call, with other Groups, on the role of  AIUK North Africa Country Co-ordinators.  One of our own group works on North Africa, and AI’s Country Co-ordinators, all impressively well-informed volunteers, are extremely active in sending through updates and calls for actions.

They try to keep in close contact with Groups, updating and supporting; they produce an ezine every 3 months and make extensive use of social media.  They aim to produce a good spread of cases.  On the advocacy side they maintain links with the FCDO, who are respectful of the materials Amnesty produces.

We have been working on the case of Egyptian housing officer Ibrahim Ezz el Din  who, by happy chance, was released the day before our May meeting. We were especially pleased as two of our Group have organised a letter bombardment on his case, sending some 50 letters. We now plan to turn our attention to the campaign for Alaa Abdel Fattah, a human rights advocate who also has UK nationality.

We discussed Ukraine – there’s a letter for signature online urging the PM to help the people fleeing Ukraine, our response so far having been ‘slow, chaotic and insufficient’ – and other allied issues of migrant and refugee rights.  The Nationality and Borders Bill has been passed, ‘ripping up the Refugee Convention (a long-standing international agreement) and shamefully abandoning the responsibility it owes to refugees’.

Amnesty is launching a Right to Protest campaign next month (in part a response to the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill) and continues to focus on the threat to human rights in our own country newly underlined by the new Bill of Rights announced in the Queen’s Speech.

We received reports from members on the Death Penalty campaign, Football Welcomes and India. Our India co-ordinator had prepared cards of support for us to send to members of the BK 15 group of political prisoners. We noted that the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had commented that the US are monitoring  the state of human rights in India.

The Death Penalty report contained the usual depressing list of those imprisoned for decades before execution, or of the mentally impaired executed – Singapore recently executed Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a man with an IQ of 67.

We’re planning a Taunton town centre stall on 25 June – more details next month.

 Our next meeting will be at 7.30pm on 14 June at the Quaker Meeting House, Bath Place.

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!

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 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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: