Tag Archives: Somerset

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!

Football Welcomes Refugees

2 May

As part of the April Amnesty campaign, Football Welcomes Refugees, our Taunton group took a stall to Taunton Town Football Club’s game against Weymouth on Tuesday 25th April. We had an overwhelmingly positive response, people coming up to the stall to sympathise and offer support, taking leaflets and stickers. We also met Zealand Shannon, American ‘football influencer ‘ on YouTube, who came to find out more about Taunton FC. He was very sympathetic to our initiative and said he had donated a sum to Amnesty during the World Cup.

All in all a worthwhile venture and one we hope to repeat next year.

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 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!

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

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