Letter #13

 

I have the good fortune to be a member of Amnesty and Liberty. They are both Human Right’s Groups who campaign for mankind’s betterment – I figure all I have to do is click a few buttons to express my point of view – how different that could be if I was just born in another country.

So, when Amnesty UK emailed me asking for support I jumped at the opportunity – I have emailed another letter to Andrew Jones – Member of Parliament for Harrogate & Knaresborough.

I admit that most of the following is copied and posted from Amnesty’s web site – but the more people who hear about it the better. Strength in numbers … right? To petition your own MP to attend the debate please click here.

Arrested at the airport

Nazanin had been visiting family in Iran with her daughter Gabriella, and was about to board a flight back to London from a Tehran airport when she was arrested by officials believed to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Her toddler daughter was handed to her grandparents who had accompanied them to the airport, while Nazanin was taken away.

A family torn apart

Following arrest, Nazanin was subjected to 45 days in solitary confinement. Her family had no idea where she was, and it wasn’t until a month later that she was allowed to see them; or to be granted access to a lawyer. Any contact with her family in Iran and the UK is now limited and controlled.

Gabriella, now three, has had no choice but to remain in Iran with her grandparents. She gets to see her mum just twice a week and only gets to speak to her dad, Richard Ratcliffe by Skype. Richard has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s freedom from their home in the UK.

Nazanin’s ‘crime’

Nazanin was arrested on vague charges, held in solitary confinement for months, and – following an unfair trial – was sentenced to five years in prison for ‘membership of an illegal group’.

The charge was in connection to her work at the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), a charity organisation promoting socio-economic progress, independent journalism and the rule of law, and her past work at BBC’s Media Action.

We therefore consider Nazanin a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and association: she must be immediately and unconditionally released. 

Health concerns

Prison is taking its toll on Nazanin. She suffers from severe arm, neck and back pain and needs urgent specialised medical care in hospital. In recent months, she has had very limited movement in her arms. The specialist who requested her hospitalisation warned that there is a risk that her right arm and hand will be permanently damaged if she doesn’t get the medical care she needs.

Kamal Foroughi

Nazanin is in no way the only dual national in prison in Iran. Kamal Foroughi, a 77-year-old British-Iranian man, is also imprisoned in Iran serving a seven-year prison sentence in Evin prison, Tehran, for alleged espionage, with no evidence or explanation ever provided. He was arrested in May 2011 by men in plain clothes who did not show an arrest warrant or explain the reasons for his arrest.  He was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months before being convicted in an unfair trial.

Like Nazanin, Kamal is separated from his family – he hasn’t seen his daughter, son or two granddaughters for six years. He has not had any outside visitor for over 2,000 days and he’s not allowed to write or receive letters.  

Also, like Nazanin, he has not been provided with much needed specialist medical care. Despite needing an operation to remove cataracts in both eyes and screening for prostate cancer, Kamal has repeatedly been denied leave on medical grounds. Read more about Kamal’s case on the next tab.

UK’s role

Although Prime Minister, Theresa May and other Ministers have raised concerns about Nazanin and Kamal with the Iranian government, and have called for Kamal to be released on humanitarian and medical grounds, it is deeply concerning that they have yet to call for Nazanin’s release.
It is time for the UK government to up the pressure and publicly call for both Nazanin and Kamal to be released from prison and brought back home to the UK.

Kamal Foroughi & Grand-daughter

Kamal Foroughi should be free

According to Iranian law Kamal has been eligible for release since January 2014 as he has served a third of his sentence. His lawyer has made more than 50 applications for his release on this basis but there has never been a formal response. In addition, he has been barred from legal advice and contact with his family at various points throughout his six-year incarceration. He was denied access to a lawyer from the day of his arrest until the day before his trial. Now, in prison, he has only very limited access to a lawyer. He has not been allowed British consular assistance either.

Kamal has not seen his daughter, son and two granddaughters for six years (they all live in/near London) and was not allowed to call them for the first three years of his detention.

He has not had any outside visitor for over 2,000 days.

He is permitted regular phone calls but must only speak in Persian, which family members in the UK do not speak well, making it difficult for them to communicate with him.

It is time for Kamal to come home.


Dear Andrew Jones MP,

As you may be aware, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, 18 July at 4.30 pm – 5.30 pm in the House of Commons on British prisoners in Iran. This is a real opportunity to show the government how much support there is in Parliament for the release of two British-Iranian dual nationals, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi. I know you will have a busy Parliamentary schedule, but I am writing to ask you if you could please attend the debate and join the call and ask the UK government to press for their release.

Background:

Nazanin was arrested in April 2016, when she was attempting to board a flight home to the UK after visiting her parents in Iran with her then 1-year-old daughter Gabriella. She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence after she was convicted of “membership of an illegal group” in connection with her work at the charity, Thomas Reuters Foundation, and her past work at BBC Media Action. Nazanin is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association through her professional work and must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Kamal is a 77-year-old British-Iranian man serving a seven-year prison sentence in Iran, for alleged ‘espionage’, with no evidence or explanation ever provided. He was arrested in May 2011 and was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months before being convicted in an unfair trial. Under Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic penal code, which allows for the conditional release of prisoners after serving one third of their sentence, Kamal is eligible for release and has been since January 2014. The Iranian authorities must apply this provision without discrimination.

Thank you for your support.

Andrew Backhouse


In the interests of democracy I will publish Andrew Jones’ reply in the comments section of this post.

Has Much Changed?

 

On the 16th of August 1819 the huge open area around what’s now St Peter’s Square, Manchester, played host to an outrage against over 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters; an event which became known as The Peterloo Massacre.

An estimated 18 people, including four women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling. Nearly 700 men, women and children received extremely serious injuries. All in the name of liberty and freedom from poverty.

The Massacre occurred during a period of immense political tension and mass protests. Fewer than 2% of the population had the vote, and hunger was rife with the disastrous corn laws making bread unaffordable.

PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

On the morning of 16th August the crowd began to gather, conducting themselves, according to contemporary accounts, with dignity and discipline, the majority dressed in their Sunday best.

The key speaker was to be famed orator Henry Hunt, the platform consisted of a simple cart, located in the front of what’s now the Manchester Central Conference Centre, and the space was filled with banners – REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION and, touchingly, LOVE.

Many of the banner poles were topped with the red cap of liberty – a powerful symbol at the time.

You can see where all this took place on these two maps of Manchester.

Local magistrates watching from a window near the field panicked at the sight of the assembly, and read the riot act, (in)effectively ordering what little of the crowd could hear them to disperse.

THE MASSACRE

As 600 Hussars, several hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables waited in reserve, the local Yeomanry were given the task of arresting the speakers. The Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas Trafford, were essentially a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners.

On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. (In one instance, spotting a reporter from the radical Manchester Observer, a Yeomanry officer called out “There’s Saxton, damn him, run him through.”)

Heading for the hustings, they charged when the crowd linked arms to try and stop the arrests, and proceeded to strike down banners and people with their swords. Rumours from the period have persistently stated the Yeomanry were drunk.

The panic was interpreted as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and the Hussars (Led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in.

As with the Tiananmen Square Massacre, there were unlikely heroes amoung the military. An unnamed cavalry officer attempted to strike up the swords of the Yeomanry, crying – “For shame, gentlemen: what are you about? The people cannot get away!” But the majority joined in with the attack.

The term ‘Peterloo’, was intended to mock the soldiers who attacked unarmed civilians by echoing the term ‘Waterloo’ – the soldiers from that battle being seen by many as genuine heroes.

AFTERMATH

By 2pm the carnage was over, and the field left full of abandoned banners and dead bodies. Journalists present at the event were arrested, others who went on to report the event were subsequently jailed. The businessman John Edward Taylor went on to help set up the Guardian newspaper as a reaction to what he’d seen.

The speakers and organizers were put on trial, at first under the charge of High treason – a charge that was reluctantly dropped by the prosecution. The Hussars and Magistrates received a message of congratulations from the Prince Regent, and were cleared of any wrong-doing by the official inquiry.

LEGACY

Historians acknowledge that Peterloo was hugely influential in ordinary people winning the right to vote, led to the rise of the Chartist Movement from which grew the Trade Unions, and also resulted in the establishment of the Manchester Guardian newspaper.

According to Nick Mansfield, director of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, “Peterloo is a critical event not only because of the number of people killed and injured, but because ultimately it changed public opinion to influence the extension of the right to vote and give us the democracy we enjoy
today. It was critical to our freedoms
.”

Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy – which was banned for 30 years …..

“Ye who suffer woes untold,
Or to feel, or to behold
Your lost country bought and sold
With a price of blood and gold.

Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free.

Let the charged artillery drive
Till the dead air seems alive
With the clash of clanging wheels,
And the tramp of horses’ heels.

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war,

And that slaughter to the Nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
Eloquent, oracular;
A volcano heard afar.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – they are few.”

Jailed For Blogging

 

The Prime Minister should put human rights and international law at the centre of her talks with Saudi Arabia’s government this week, regarding the whole region she is visiting.

Numerous human rights organisations, including the UNHRC and Amnesty International, have documented the dictatorial Saudi monarchy’s shocking human rights record.

The Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes.

Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing. British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

Britain must halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately, throw its weight behind a ceasefire resolution at the United Nations and back a full and genuinely independent investigation of the evidence of war crimes in Yemen.

As it stands, the British-Saudi relationship is damaging to the people of Saudi Arabia, Britain and the wider Middle East, and helping to export insecurity to the rest of the world.

Unless the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi regime over its abuses this week, it will be clear she is ready to sacrifice human rights and security on the altar of the arms trade.

However, it is on of Saudi Arabia’s neighbours – The UAE – and in particular Ahmed Mansoor I want to speak about. He was the last human rights activist working freely in the United Arab Emirates – until a fortnight ago, when security forces stormed his home in the middle of the night. He was arrested and thrown in jail. His crime? Standing up for rights.

Ahmed Mansoor was at home when, at midnight on 20 March, twelve members of the state security forces burst in. They searched his house, confiscated his family’s phones and other electronic devices – and took Ahmed away with them. Ahmed and his family didn’t know what was going on. His wife and children had no idea where he was for over a week.

The week after his arrest, authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed that they had charged Ahmed with ‘cybercrimes’ and revealed that he is jailed in an Abu Dhabi prison. Ahmed still hasn’t been able to contact his family directly to confirm this.

Ahmed is an award-winning blogger and regularly posts about human rights issues in the UAE on social media. For that, he has been charged with ‘promoting false and shaded information through the Internet and serving agendas aimed at spreading hatred and sectarianism’.

This shouldn’t be an offense – but the UAE authorities are notorious for unfairly punishing people like Ahmed who speak up for citizens’ rights. Ahmed has committed no crime. Call for his freedom now.

Stand with Ahmed – call for his release by signing this petition.

Until his arrest, Ahmed was the last person in the UAE working openly to stand up for human rights in the country. For this, he had endured years of harassment from state officials. Over the years, he has worked closely with Amnesty and the UN to report on the state of rights in the UAE. We need to ensure that his voice isn’t silenced.

Article 50 & Human Rights

 

So it’s official, the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50 and we are leaving the European Union.

Following last June’s decision to leave the EU there’s been much speculation over what this will actually mean for the UK and those living here. Almost every time we turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or go online we are invited to listen to politicians, pundits and an array of experts give us their thoughts.

What is absent from these debates is any meaningful consideration of what Brexit means for human rights. It could be positive – the government could choose to use this as an opportunity to strengthen the rights that we have fought long and hard for. Or it could not be.

One thing’s for sure: we will be fighting to ensure that all human rights are protected and safeguarded as the UK negotiates its exit. Here are just a few of the things to watch out for.

Ensuring EU migrants have the right to remain

On 7 March the House of Lords voted to change the Bill that would launch the process of leaving the EU – they asked for it to offer EU nationals already living here confirmation that they would be able to continue doing so.

On 13 March Parliament voted to reject this change.

This is a great disappointment and sends a worrying signal that rights will be dragged into the exit negotiations. That people and their families will become bargaining chips as the government determines the terms on which we will leave the EU.

To send a clear signal that they won’t trade away our rights the government must resolve this insecurity as a priority.

Sign Amnesty’s petition to David Davis demanding that the UK protects the rights of those who have made the UK their home

 

Coming together

In the wake of the referendum we, as a nation, saw a shocking rise in reports of racist and xenophobic incidents.

During it we witnessed unedifying and morally bankrupt language being used by some politicians and the media.

As Article 50 is triggered, we need to come together to show that this is not what a post-EU UK looks like.

Those involved in the political debate or seeking to influence negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal must not resort to inflammatory and toxic language. In our communities and on our streets, we must treat each other with respect.

We must come together and stand against hate.

The impact on UK law

From protecting the rights of women and girls, LGBTI communities, workers’ rights and our rights to privacy, to the mechanisms that work to control the arms trade – many of the rights protections we have in the UK have come from the EU.

These are our rights and we must work together to defend them – to ensure they are maintained once we leave.

Ripples around the world

Just as we look to protect our rights here in the UK, we must also explore the global impact Britain’s withdrawal from the EU could have.

Prime Minister Theresa May recently embarked on a branding exercise promoting a post Brexit Britain that will engage across the world and be prepared to stand up for its principles. But we are yet to have a clearly defined picture of what this Global Britain will look like. We’ll be working to make sure it is a positive force for human rights – leading by example and raising the bar.

As part of this, we want the government to ensure the UK’s well-established position on several key international bodies – including the UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, NATO, the Commonwealth, G7 and G20 – is used to seize new opportunities to promote and enhance human rights as they establish relationships and alliances with others.

Don’t trade away rights

The Prime Minister has said that the UK ‘…should seize the opportunity to get out into the world: yes, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends…’

And the government has wasted no time in catching up with old friends or building new alliances. Ministers have been jetting here there and everywhere as they seek to secure trade deals and establish bilateral relationships. They’ve been busy visiting Turkey, Bahrain, USA, UAE and will soon be off to China.

Trade and security are no doubt legitimate pursuits of the government. But we all need to be alert to them being used as an excuse to de-prioritise or turn a blind eye to human rights.

Over the last few decades Amnesty UK have worked hard to ensure human rights concerns sit at the heart of the arms trade – and the trade in military, security and police equipment more broadly. We have worked with partners across the world to ensure that trade is not done where there is risk that it could contribute to human rights abuses.

Many of these checks and balances sit within EU mechanisms, and the UK government must maintain its commitment to them as we leave.

Trade, security and human rights should be complementary, not mutually exclusive. The government must not be tempted to be silent on human rights issues to secure trade deals.

An opportunity

Over the next two years, as the government negotiates the terms on which we leave the EU, we will be fighting to ensure no existing rights are lost.

But more than that, we want the government to use this as an opportunity. They could improve our rights. They could strengthen protections and commitments. And we will not stop fighting until this is what a post-EU UK looks like.

Are you with me?

Sign Amnesty’s petition to David Davis demanding that the UK protects the rights of those who have made the UK their home

Dreaming Of A World Without Borders: Utopian Visions From The Past

 

I found the below article on theconversation.com – I will credit it with appropriate Canonicals, but I wanted to share it here, on my blog – If I have done anything wrong then please let me know. But, with Brexit, Mayism & Trumpism at the forefront of the western political psyche, I thought it a poignant post.

In the age of heavily restricted migration, passport control seems a natural prerogative of the state. The idea of abolishing passports is almost unthinkable. But in the 20th century, governments considered their “total abolition” as an important goal, and even discussed the issue at several international conferences.

The first passport conference was held in Paris in 1920, under the auspices of the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations). Part of the Committee on Communication and Transit’s aim was to restore the pre-war regime of freedom of movement.

Indeed, for much of the 19th century, as an International Labour Organisation report stated in 1922:

Migration was generally speaking, unhindered and each emigrant could decide on the time of his departure, his arrival or his return, to suit his own convenience.

But the World War I brought harsh restrictions on freedom of movement.

In 1914, warring states France, Germany, and Italy were the first to make passports mandatory, a measure rapidly followed by others, including the neutral states of Spain, Denmark and Switzerland.

At the end of the war, the regime of obligatory passports was widespread. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations, stipulated that member states commit to “secure and maintain freedom of communications and of transit”.


Freedom of movement was on the agenda at the Treaty of Versailles. Imperial War Museum London

Fences are easier to build than to dismantle. The 1920 Paris conference recognised that restrictions on freedom of movement affect “personal relations between the peoples of various countries” and “constitute a serious obstacle to the resumption of normal intercourse and to the economic recovery of the world”.

But its delegates also assumed that security concerns prevented:

for the time being, the total abolition of restrictions and the complete return to pre-war conditions which the Conference hopes, nevertheless, to see gradually re-established in the near future.

To facilitate freedom of movement, participants agreed instead to establish a uniform, international passport, issued for a single journey or for a period two years. This is how we ended up with the format of the passports we use today.

Participants also decided to abolish exit visas and decrease the cost of entry visas.

Close but no cigar

During the conferences that followed, several resolutions again highlighted the goal of abolishing passports, but concluded that the time was not yet right. In 1924, the International Conference of Emigration and Immigration in Rome maintained that “the necessity of obtaining passports should be abolished as soon as possible” but in the meantime advocated other measures to facilitate travel. These measures included an increase in the number of offices delivering passports, allowing emigrants to save time and money.

In Geneva in 1926, Polish delegate, Franciszek Sokal, opened proceedings by bluntly asking the parties to adopt “as a general rule that all States Members of the League of Nations should abolish passports”.

At that time, passports and visas were still regarded as a serious obstacle to freedom of movement, as a Mr Junod from the International Chamber of Commerce said:

Could not the Conference adopt a resolution contemplating the abolition of passports at the earliest possible date? Public opinion would regard this as a step in the right direction.

But by then, most governments had already adopted the uniform passport and some of them saw it as an important document that was meant to protect emigrants. As the Italian delegate reminded the conference that conditions had changed after the war and the passport was “particularly necessary as an identification document for workers and their families; it provided them with the protection they needed, enabled them to obtain permits of sojourn.”

Another delegate alluded to the Soviet Union when he refused to restore the pre-war regime. He said:

conditions had changed so much since the war that everyone had to take into consideration a good many things they could formerly ignore.

Passports were never supposed to be forever. www.shutterstock.com

Discussions about passport abolition resumed after World War II.

In 1947, the first problem considered at an expert meeting preparing for the UN World Conference on Passports and Frontier Formalities, was “the possibility of a return to the regime which existed before 1914 involving as a general rule the abolition of any requirement that travelers should carry passports”.

But delegates ultimately decided that a return to a passport-free world could only happen alongside a return to the global conditions that prevailed before the start of the first world war. By 1947, that was a distant dream. The experts advised instead a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements to attain this goal.

World leaders were still talking about banning passports as late as 1963, when the UN Conference on International Travel and Tourism recognised “the desirability, from both an economic and social point, of progressively freer international travel”. Once again, it was estimated that “it is not feasible to recommend the abolition of passports on a world-wide basis.”

Now, neither the public nor governments consider passports as a serious obstacle to freedom of movement, though any would-be traveller from Yemen, Afghanistan or Somalia would no doubt argue differently.

It takes less than a century, it seems, to see the absence of freedom as a natural condition.

Letter #9

 

Dear Andrew Jones MP,

The Leave Campaign promised that Brexit would not mean stripping EU citizens of their rights – and polling shows the British public overwhelmingly agrees. Yet still the Government refuses to reassure EU citizens as to their rights to remain in the UK.

There may not be much that opposing sides of the Brexit debate agree on, but this issue has inspired support across political lines.

Last week in an amendment to the Brexit Bill, the House of Lords demanded that the Government guarantee the rights of EU nationals.

Reports* from Parliamentary committees and advisors have called for the Government to do the right thing and protect EU citizens’ right to remain. The British public, so divided on Brexit itself, agree – with 77 per cent of those who voted to leave the EU and 84 per cent of the UK public agreeing Brexit wasn’t about stripping EU nationals of their rights (survey by Common Vision).

Yet the Government continues to use people as bargaining chips in their Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile around 3 million EU nationals living in the UK (and many UK nationals living abroad) watch nervously as politicians play fast and loose with their future.

As the vote moves to the House of Commons, I am writing to you as my MP to ensure that EU subjects are not treated as bargaining chips in an ill-thought out game. Andrew, please write back to me and say ‘together, we will stand up for EU nationals and ensure that fairness and human rights are at the heart of the negotiations.’

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Backhouse

* Reports are found here –

1) https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldeucom/82/82.pdf
2) https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201617/jtselect/jtrights/695/695.pdf

An Open Letter To The White House

 

Dear President Trump,

The newly legistalted travel ban and the far-reaching changes to the US refugee admission programme will have a drastic impact on some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world. Refugees due to be resettled in the US have been selected because of the gravity of the suffering they have endured while fleeing conflict and persecution. They must go through a lengthy vetting process before entering the US. With the signing of this latest Executive Order, their hopes of finally reaching safety in the US will be dashed, adding yet more needless suffering to their lives.

Attempting to justify blatant discrimination in the interests of national security is disingenuous. Playing with the lives of refugees due for resettlement is unconscionable.

People fleeing conflict and insecurity in countries like Syria, Yemen and Somalia are not a security threat; they are refugees in need of protection. Banning people from these countries will not make America safer.

Historically, the United States has been a global leader on refugee resettlement, offering protection to those most in need. I call on you to maintain this vital commitment to refugees, and urge you to immediately revoke the Executive Order, which is in violation of the principle of non-discrimination, codified in articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and which undermines the US government’s obligations in relation to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew


If you, reader, want to copy and paste the above in to your own email – feel free. The address that you will need to sent it to Trump is [email protected].