"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Archive for February, 2010

The Day Norwich Rioted Against The Poll Tax


Twenty years ago Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax polarised political opinion and led to violent riots around the country. MARY HAMILTON takes a look back at the day an angry crowd stormed Norwich city hall.

When violence erupted over the poll tax in London 20 years ago, the sheer scale of it took the capital’s police and the political elite by surprise.

But the mass riots in Trafalgar Square on March 31 1990 were the culmination of months of growing anger over the imposition of what was widely regarded as an unfair and unjust tax.

In the month leading up to the London riots, smaller demonstrations around the country were beginning to come to a head – and Norwich was no exception.

The impending imposition of a flat rate tax on every adult over 18 caused massive outrage, as it meant pensioners and those earning subsistence wages would pay the same amount as millionaires.

Norwich Anti-Poll Tax Union, headed by Martin Smith, handed out flyers calling the tax “a policy of Robin Hood in reverse”, held increasingly well-attended talks and ran demonstrations where protestors burned their registration forms.

The growing public anger in Norwich came to a head when a riot broke out at the city council meeting on March 6, where the poll tax level for the city was due to be set.

More than 1,000 people stormed City Hall, breaking windows with dustbins and traffic cones, and overwhelming the 30 police officers on duty.

Reinforcements were rushed to the scene as 100 protestors inside the council chambers shouted and chanted at councillors and threw ripped-up agenda papers from the public gallery.

The meeting was adjourned within 10 minutes and a planned restart at 9pm was abandoned after a skirmish broke out at the back of the hall.

In total the protest, which will be featured on Inside Out on BBC1 on Monday, cost the city council £19,500 to repair smashed windows and vandalised computers, and four women were arrested in the aftermath of the demonstration.

Even so, Gillian London, 59, remembers the day as a positive expression of solidarity, with people coming together to protest injustice.

“Originally I went along because of the unfairness,” said Mrs London, of Hall Road, Tuckswood. “It taxed the poor and didn’t take anything into consideration as to people’s income.

“I believed that we had to stand up for people who were worse off than ourselves – it wasn’t to do with my personal circumstances.

“I genuinely thought people were not just there for themselves – it wasn’t just about what we were going to gain.”

Mrs London said she enjoyed being among likeminded people, and despite coming close to the violence she said she was never worried she would be hurt or arrested.

“I stood outside City Hall when some of the violence broke out,” she said. “I was there with my sisters and we felt the ruckus was being orchestrated by a group of people.

“I had someone come running up to me and say we needed to move because we were going to be arrested. I told her I wasn’t causing any trouble, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

“I didn’t think anybody in the town hall was threatened by us outside, though there were stories that the councillors were scared of what we were going to do.”

Eamonn Burgess, now a DJ for Future Radio, said he arrived at the demonstration after the violence was over.

“After we left we heard that a few people had been arrested,” he said. “The late Ken Bradley, who was a law lecturer at City College, went and got them all out of the cells.

“There was an absolute polarisation in society – rich versus poor, left versus right, us versus them. Everyone knew what side they were on.”

The second meeting to set the tax rate on March 11 went much more smoothly, despite an 800-strong protest throwing eggs at City Hall and chanting so loudly that the bells of nearby St Peter Mancroft church were almost drowned out.

The council fixed a poll tax of £365 per adult for Norwich in 1990 – more than £50 higher than government predictions.

Council leader Jane Sillett said many ordinary people were angry at the imposition of a tax that was “outrageous, unjust, universally hated and probably unworkable”, and finance chairman Patricia Hollis – now Baroness Hollis of Heigham – admitted some people would be unable to pay the £1-a-day levy.

Her words proved prophetic as many people in Norwich either refused to pay or were unable to find the cash for the first year’s poll tax, leading to court appearances and further protests.

The riots and the imposition of the hugely unpopular tax were instrumental in the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, who resigned in November 1990.

Her replacement John Major immediately repealed the poll tax, replacing it with the current council tax system – effectively reinstating the rates system that existed before 1990 – a course of action that many people credit to the strength of feeling shown across the country.

 


Five Minute Wonder Chloe Smith an ‘Inspiration’…Or Not…


Great to see such an ‘influential’ MP get where she is today because Ian Gibson, barred from standing in the next general election by a disciplinary panel of the Labour Party after expenses irregularities, resigned forcing a by-election.

Just don’t tell Chloe nobody would have heard of her if Gibson had decided to stand as an ‘Independent’…

Politicians. Can’t live with em, can’t get rid of em…

We Couldn't Agree More Chloe!

Accolade for ‘influential’ Norwich MP Chloe Smith

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been named as one of the 20 most influential young women in the country by an upmarket magazine.

The list, complied by Red magazine, features women under 30 from fields including politics, business, charity, music, fashion and literature.

Miss Smith, 27, won the previously safe Labour seat of Norwich North for the Tories in July’s by-election, called following the resignation of Ian Gibson.

She is the youngest MP in Westminster – the so-called “baby of the House” – and is referred to in the piece as “the Tories’ secret weapon”.

The magazines quotes Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary and shadow minister for women, who paid tribute to Miss Smith in a BBC interview, praising her “different approach” to politics and calling her a “fresh face” who could be a huge benefit to the party.

Sam Baker, editor-in-chief of Red magazine, said: “Westminster is traditionally full of middle-aged men, so we’re delighted to see smart, passionate young women making a name for themselves in politics.

“Red magazine’s recent survey of ‘middle youth’ voters (30+ professional females) revealed that 97 per cent of women are not inspired by female MPs. If Chloe Smith and others like her are involved in politics, it will give women political figures they can be inspired by.”

Other women in the list include actress Sheridan Smith, best known for her roles in Gavin and Stacey, Two Pints of Lager and Love Soup; novelist Jennie Rooney and chef Gemma Tuley.

Miss Smith said: “I’m delighted and flattered to be in this list. I’m also very happy for a politician to be appearing after what has, without doubt, been a difficult year for Parliament.

“I was proud to be elected at a young age and I do hope to contribute to my country as part of a new generation of people interested in positive politics.

“Role models are incredibly important and I think Red is doing a great job in highlighting young people’s positive achievements.

“Personally, I have a number of people that I can look to for help and inspiration, and I strongly believe that role modelling, networking, mentoring and training are the kind of things that help young women get on. I’m honoured to be able to contribute something in turn by being in this list.”

Miss Smith appears in the April edition of Red, out on Wednesday.

Do you know a young person making a big impression in their community? Contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk

Source


Too Late For Labour To Stop The BNP


Article Taken From The National Website Of The Independent Working Class Association

New Labour’s sudden concern for the wellbeing of the ‘white working class’ is a product solely of the threat they feel from the BNP. Aside from its cynicism, this move is too little, too late. New Labour made the conscious choice to turn its back on the working class once and for all in 1994. They have sowed the wind, now they will reap the whirlwind.

Reviewing the responses to Local Government Minister John Denham’s recent announcement on the race vs. class issue (see BBC News – Labour battles the BNP on class and race), it was noticeable that the right wing press (The Times, the Telegraph and the Financial Times) were able to respond to Denham’s statement in a rational, coherent manner. They were able to conceive that, just perhaps, class is at least as important a social factor as race. This stood in contrast to the reaction of The Guardian, which accused Denham of saying that racism no longer existed (which he didn’t) and pandering to lowest common denominator underclass prejudice.

Take, for instance, the response of Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, who was able to articulate -as clearly as the IWCA has often done- how many social problems which are normally viewed as racial are in fact class-based:

“Class has always explained far more about Britain than race – and many of the problems we think of as racial are at least as much about class. Take British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis. Undoubtedly two of the most disadvantaged groups, they are far more likely to be poor or jobless, than the average white person. The traditional liberal explanation was simple – they were the victims of racism. Of course, they did, and do, suffer from racism. But that simple diagnosis cannot explain why British Indians – exactly the same race as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – are, on average, richer, better educated and more likely to be employed than whites. Nor can it explain why members of Britain’s Chinese community are wealthier than whites. Most Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are Muslim – so perhaps it’s about faith? No – sadly for those ranting about “Islamophobia”, British Arabs, though mostly also Muslim, are almost as wealthy and advantaged as the Indians. The key factor is not race, or faith, but class. British Indians are mainly middle-class, the descendants of merchants and traders. So are Britain’s Arab and Chinese communities. British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are mainly working-class, the descendants of poor villagers brought here for factory work.

“Thirty years ago, there was not a single non-white MP, let alone minister, and it was perfectly acceptable to tell bigoted jokes on prime-time TV. Mixed marriages were almost unknown; the police were openly racist. Racism has undoubtedly diminished, but class discrimination has, in some respects, got worse. A working-class Londoner is more trapped, less likely to advance than he or she was 30 years ago. State education is no longer a force for mobility. Training in non-academic skills has collapsed. Housing is impossibly overpriced. Above all, work itself has become less secure. And though class discrimination affects all races, the largest group of victims is white. White working-class anger has become a force that no politician can ignore. And those politicians who do ignore it – such as Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London – get swept away.” (John Denham’s right: It’s class, not race, that determines Britain’s have-nots – Telegraph).

Even the rabidly right-wing Simon Heffer was able to get his head around the concept of ‘class not race’, though as a good Thatcherite he attributes the travails of the British working class not to the destruction of the productive economy and the triumph of finance capital, but to single mothers and the demise of grammar schools (How to help the white working class – Telegraph).

This stands in contrast to the reaction of the Guardian. To the liberal multiculturalist mindset, it is literally inconceivable that the issue of class might explain more than race; that it may not be the case that all whites have a uniform access to power, opportunity and influence, the type of which is denied to all non-whites; that non-white ethnic groups are not uniform, and significant class cleavages might exist within them. To the liberal multiculturalist, the notion of class unity and class politics across racial lines is a threat not only to their worldview, but also in many cases their paycheques and funding. Home affairs editor Alan Travers worried of Denham’s statement that “such a “sophisticated” message ends up falling between two stools and reassures neither the poorest of the white working class nor inner-city black and Asian “core” Labour voters” (John Denham’s subtler approach to race and class carries new risk | Society | The Guardian, the use of quotation marks around ‘sophisticated’ is Travis’s). But the most revealing reaction, the one truest to multicultural form, came from assistant comment editor Joseph Harker, who had this to say:

“New Labour abolished the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission and shoved all the “isms” into one overbearing, bureaucratic and malfunctioning equalities commission. Now Denham wants to repeat the thinking, merging minorities into an overall “social class” group which will represent all the economically disadvantaged. Well, this just won’t do, because Britain’s racial minorities do not fit neatly into its traditional class structure (emphasis added). Most minorities in Britain are from poor backgrounds, with little or no longstanding family wealth. Even those who have not faced direct or indirect discrimination have had to overcome economic and social obstacles. But do those who have done so, and gained a decent education or a decent job, immediately break free from all-pervasive racism and therefore no longer require any legal or other support?

“Not only that, but no one has yet come up with a decent, all-encompassing description of what “working class” really is. Does a man or woman automatically become middle class the moment they gain an A-level? Or a degree? In which case, class inequality will always be embedded, because the success stories are excluded from the figures – and it will always appear that the working class are worse-off than minority groups. Even if such distinctions were worked out, why would black and Asian people want to join with the white working classes, when some of them are signing up to the British National party and seem only too keen to blame non-whites for their own disadvantages? (emphasis added)” (Labour has not eliminated racism | Joseph Harker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk).

So, Harker thinks it’s a bad thing that all the ‘economically disadvantaged’ might be thought of as an ‘overall social class’; disputes the existence of such a concept as ‘the working class’; believes that black and Asian people shouldn’t join with the ‘white working class’; accepts that ‘class inequality will always be embedded’, and believes that minorities ‘who have gained a decent education or a decent job’ are still in need of ‘legal or other support’. So: race over class (class no longer existing), support for political balkanisation and separatism, and the acceptance of existing class/economic hierarchies – not to mention inherent racial differences, at least among the lower orders – alongside continued support for the black middle class, all in the space of 250 words. Quite remarkable, even for the liberal left. It takes some doing to miss the point so spectacularly, but Harker has managed it.

We should finish by pointing out what should be obvious: that Denham’s concern for the ‘white working class’ is purely opportunistic and, in any case, comes years too late. It is motivated solely by the (justified) concern that the BNP have the potential to eat into what is left of Labour’s core vote. While it is not too late for the BNP to be taken on and stopped politically, it is too late for Labour to do the job: that ship has sailed. New Labour made the choice to turn its back on the working class, assuming it had nowhere else to go. That betrayal will not be forgotten or forgiven.

http://www.iwca.info/?p=10149


Have Amnesty International Broken With Cage Prisoners?


The latest development in the saga concerning Amnesty International, Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners is a statement criticising Amnesty from Salman Rushdie.

What is perhaps more significant politically, is whether Amnesty have done the decent thing and broken off relations with the Jihadi supporting Cage Prisoners. Begg, Director of Cage Prisoners, was due to speak at Amnesty’s London HQ on Tuesday 16th February. Instead Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes of the Guantanamo Justice Centre took centre stage following the showing of Worthington’s 2009 film “Outside The Law: Stories From Guantanamo

Begg withdrew, and a statement from him was read to the meeting by Witney Brown of Amnesty’s International Secretariat. It was noticeable that although some clapped this statement ostentatiously, others either managed a polite tapping, or sat on their hands entirely. There were certainly no voices raised in opposition to Begg’s absence.

In March local Amnesty groups in Bradford (9th) and Norwich (10th) are putting on meetings in the tour Worthington and Deghayes are conducting. Given the nature of Cage Prisoners, and the somewhat dishonest way in which certain literature is distributed at some of their appearances and not at others, I would hope that Cage are not welcome at either of these events.

Over to you Amnesty………..

http://paulstott.typepad.com/i_intend_to_escape_and_co/2010/02/have-amnesty-international-broken-with-cage-prisoners-.html

Let’s just look at one of those links again shall we Amnesty….


None Of The Above (NOTA) Campaign


None of the Above (NOTA) or against all is a ballot choice in some jurisdictions or organizations, placed so as to allow the voter to indicate his disapproval with all of the candidates in any voting system. It is based on the principle that all legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent, allowing voters to withhold their consent in an election to office, just as they can by voting no on ballot questions.

NOTA was registered as a political party with the UK Electoral Commission on 2 March 2009. It is the intention of NOTA to field candidates in every UK parliamentary constituency. The respective NOTA candidates will not continue in office should they receive the most votes. It is merely a mechanism to facilitate a means of recording a NOTA vote. Under the Registration of Political Parties (Prohibited Words and Expressions) (Amendment) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/147), “None of the above” is a prohibited expression regarding registration as a party name.

The aims of NOTA are:

a) to raise awareness of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of our current system of government

b) to provide information about what None Of The Above is, how it would work and why it is so central to the concept of democracy

c) to put pressure on the political establishment to include a None Of The Above box on the UK ballot paper.

THE FACTS ABOUT ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’

Spoilt Ballots & Turnout Figures

With a general election around the corner, it seems that many people who support the NOTA-UK movement in principle are under the impression that spoiling the ballot paper is the same thing as None Of The Above. It isn’t, this is FALSE.

Spoilt ballot papers ARE counted but they are categorically NOT counted as PROTEST votes. If they were, there would be no need for the NOTA box.

When you spoil the ballot paper in protest it is counted and grouped with all the ballot papers spoiled in error. There is no distinction made between a vote creatively spoilt in protest and one that someone messed up. They are all lumped in together and defined collectively as the latter, not the former.

In addition, people who spoil ballots in protest, or in error, are added to the turnout figures just for walking into the polling station, even though their ‘vote’ is not actually counted in any way. So, aside from making you feel better, spoiling a ballot paper actually achieves nothing, in fact it only compounds the problem.
Voting NOTA

In contrast, voting NOTA in numbers (if we could), would have a profound impact on any election result.

Our ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP) page has full details on our current system, in summary it is a two party system where no-else can ever get a look in. This is because of the many supposedly ‘safe’ seats that are traditionally always Labour or Conservative. These seats represent a minority of the UK population, yet they also represent a disproportionately large amount of seats in parliament, thus giving the two main parties a huge head start at election time.

In these ‘safe’ seats the turnout is always incredibly low, as most people know the result is a forgone conclusion. A NOTA box on the ballot paper would absolutely demolish this idea of a ‘safe’ seat as it would give the abstaining majority in those constituencies something tangible to vote for and by doing so, level the playing field nationwide.
If NOTA Wins

If the NOTA box were to carry the majority vote in any single constituency, there would have to be a re-run election in that constituency with the previous candidates disqualified and new candidates put forward. This is good for democracy, it would encourage and enable genuine candidates relying on truth and integrity rather than career politicians relying on spin and manipulation to come forward and have a go. It would not, as some have tried to suggest, create chaos or a power vacuum. It would be a simple case of staging a second election, which would take a matter of days, during which time the previous administration would obviously hold the fort.

If the NOTA box were to carry the majority vote nationwide (also known as the popular vote), as is highly likely, the same principle unfortunately doesn’t apply. Under any form of Proportional Representation (see PR page), it would. But under our current FPTP system, the party who won the most seats would still form the next government. But in those circumstances, that government would have no legitimacy, as the larger popular vote would be UNIFIED behind one thing – None Of The Above. Electoral reform would have to follow, it would be unavoidable as the government’s position would be completely untenable.

This is why NOTA has to be the first step on the road to reforming our system of government. No matter how much the two main parties talk about having referendum’s on the electoral process once they are elected (whilst electioneering, naturally), the truth is they have no intention of ever voluntarily scrapping FPTP as they know it would be the end of their dominance of the whole process.

Getting a NOTA box is achievable, however, for the reasons discussed on the About Us page. A NOTA box on the ballot paper could, and most likely would, create circumstances in which the political establishment would have no choice but to reform our electoral system. NOTA is therefore the seed from which all other electoral and political reform can grow.
The Re-open Nomination’s Issue

A lot of people have said to us things like “None OF The Above sounds a bit negative, wouldn’t Re-Open Nominations (RON) be better?”

In a by-election, or individual constituencies in a general election, RON is applicable but we would be in favour of ‘None Of The Above (re-open nominations)’ as a compromise for two reasons:

Firstly, a lot of people who would vote NOTA would do so out of pure protest and disillusionment with our entire system. They would therefore be unlikely to vote for ‘Re-Open Nominations’ if that were how the option were presented to them. None Of The Above is totally unambiguous and has infinitely more clout with these people, of which there are millions.

Secondly, at a national level in a general election, RON is completely inapplicable, because if it, or NOTA, were to carry the popular vote nationwide, under FPTP the party with the most seats would still form the next government. There would be no re-opening of nominations, so RON would make no sense. As stated above, in that scenario, the new government would have no legitimacy as the nationwide popular vote would be greater and unified behind one thing, electoral reform would have to follow. In which case, that one thing has to be NOTA, as that is in fact what people have voted for.

As for negativity, what we are campaigning for is the democratic right to say NO, so None Of The Above is completely appropriate. Being able to say NO to something unacceptable, or that isn’t working, is in fact inherently positive on account of what it represents in terms of liberty and democracy.
New Political Parties & Independents

Many people have also said to us things like: “Why get people to unite behind ‘no-one’, why not set up a new political party or get those people to vote for one of the other parties, or stand as independents?”

The answer to this is simple. In our current system, only Labour and the Conservatives have any realistic chance of forming a government, due to FPTP. All other parties are essentially irrelevant and merely reinforce the illusion-of-democracy. When a new party, or a fringe party or independent causes an upset and wins a seat, they actually have no real influence or power in Westminster because of the nature of our undemocratic disproportional system. These occurrences serve only to grab a few headlines and allow the likes of Cameron and Brown to crow about the virtues of our wonderful ‘democracy’, even though it isn’t one. As for mobilising our supporters to vote for an established party, this would obviously be counter productive to our aims for the same reasons.

NOTA is the only way to turn this scenario around and give other parties and independents any degree of relevance within our system of government.

(NB: The phrase ‘None Of The Above’ is prohibited from appearing on the UK ballot paper in the context of describing a new political party or candidate (for obvious reasons – people would think they were casting a vote for ‘none of the above’, when in fact it would be a vote for a registered party of that name). It is NOT, however, prohibited as a means to register a non-partisan positive abstention, which is what we are campaigning for).

Unfortunately, all the while we have this undemocratic two party system and no means of saying NO, the only way to positively impact upon it at election time is to not vote and try to engineer a ridiculously low turnout that calls into question the winning party’s legitimacy. As discussed on the homepage, this is, however, not the same as withholding consent and saying “NO”. It is merely not participating in the process.

But sadly, if you vote at all in our current system, you are merely reinforcing and propping up an undemocratic two party system and everything it represents, no matter who you vote for. So many feel they have no choice but to abstain.

That is why we need a NOTA box on the ballot paper as matter of urgency.

http://www.nota-uk.org/index.html


New Concerns Over Rural Post Offices


A warning shot has been fired by a rural champion for Norfolk over the future of the county’s post offices in the wake of a scathing report on last year’s closures.

Post Office Ltd has been criticised for the way it ran its consultation over the closure of 2,500 branches nationally last year – 69 of which were proposed in Norfolk and west Suffolk.

In a report released this week, Post Office was accused of treating communications as “a necessary evil” and that lessons needed to be learned by the company and other providers of essential local services.

Problems faced by Norfolk communities trying to fight for their local branches included Post Office not having done its homework on branches, such as in one case where it would have taken three days by bus to get to the next branch and people only being able to give reasons to keep their branch relating to a specific criterion of access.

But, Norfolk Rural Community Council chairman John Clemo said communities should now be looking to future cuts to rural post offices.

He said: “Yes, it is important we understand what went wrong with the previous consultation. But come 2011 we will be look at this issue again. The government will be reviewing the network subsidy. We need to look at options to make sure rural communities have access to the services they need.”

The report into the consultation, which ran nationally from 2008 but hit Norfolk in 2009, was put together by Consumer Focus, a statutory watchdog created from the merger of Energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council.

It said an unprecedented number of people – around 2.7 million – tried to air their views about the closure programme through writing to their local MP, taking part in newspaper campaigns or other means.

But, Post Office “failed to effect-ively engage consumers, with only around one in 13 directly contribu-ting to the formal decision-making process to close local post offices”.

Although many people took part in local activities such as petitions, these were less effective in influencing the final decision on closures than a formal response, the report said.

It added: “As a result, Post Office missed opportunities to obtain valuable local knowledge of how cutbacks would affect communities, and many consumers were left feeling that the consultation process was a sham.”

The six-week consultation period was deemed not long enough and Post Office then did not show the reasons for its decisions to those who had commented, only showing the reasons to key stakeholders and groups, it said.

source


Statement by Gita Sahgal on Amnesty International and Cageprisoners


Recently we featured an article by Paul Stott which looked at Amnesty Internationals’ poor judgement in their latest Islamo Jihadi Pin-Up, one Moazzam Begg and his Al Qaeda supporting organisation Cageprisoners, following their visit to Norwich.

Recent events related to this relationship between the two have resulted in even more ridiculous decisions by Amnesty, namely the sacking of writer, broadcaster and active member of Women Against Fundamentalism Gita Sahgal, for daring to criticize the relationship.

A statement by Ms.Sahgal on the matter can be read below.

Amnesty International and Cageprisoners
Statement by Gita Sahgal

7 February 2010

This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2010/02/07/statement-by-gita-sahgal-on-amnesty-international-and-cageprisoners/