Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme

Amnesty International suspended Gita Sahgal, head of their Gender Unit, for publicly objecting to its partnering with Moazzam Begg and his organisation CagePrisoners, after a long internal campaign to persuade Amnesty to take into account the judgement of its own employees that CagePrisoners was and remains a bad choice of partner for a human rights organisation. Background in my previous post.

Gita Sahgal was interviewed today by Justin Webb on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, 10th February 2010, from 08:40 for about 4 minutes 30.

Here is a transcript (during the preamble it was made clear that she couldn’t talk about the suspension).

GS: I asked Amnesty International two or three questions which should have been very easily answered. And when I say ‘Amnesty International’, I mean my own bosses – I was working inside the organisation, and raised perfectly legitimate question, and that was: How did we come to have such a close relationship with CagePrisoners – how did we decide that they were a safe and proper organisation for us to work with?

JW: So you sent these emails – these requests – to people within Amnesty – you’re saying that their reaction has been to suspend you.

GS: That’s correct.

JW: What is the substance of your concern about Moazzam Begg?

GS: [pause] You know, I’ve been concerned about what Moazzam Begg and his organisation stand for for a long time but I think the issue that I have is with my employer because we are a human rights organisation, we make very careful decisions about how and where we partner with people, we have long discussions around these things, and when I spoke to people in my office, who are experts on these matters, who investigate on group violations, who are regional experts, who work on counter terror policy and so on – all of them, they had recommended against this relationship. I then asked where the decision had been made to have such a close relationship, or whether we just drifted into it and, you know, whether we had any form of paper work which would explain what we were doing and why we were doing it. And none of that has ever been answered

JW: But this is a man who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, he wasn’t subjected to any trial, he was released in the end without charge, he does not personally advocate violence. Why on earth shouldn’t Amnesty be closely associated with him?

GS: Because I believe that the organisation CagePrisoner has an agenda that is way beyond being a human rights organisation -

JW: – and this is the organisation for which he speaks?

GS: Exactly.

JW: And what do you think they do want?

GS: Well, yesterday I was on radio with Assim Qureshi, who is another prominent figure in the organisation, and he said – well, he didn’t deny when read out to him – statements that he made supporting global jihad, which he said was protected under international law.

JW: What Amnesty has said in a statement is that they consistently document and condemn abuses by the Taliban, Islamist armed groups, whenever they occur and especially Afghanistan and Pakistan.

GS: Amnesty International has never done any research on the networks developing in Britain or Europe or the US, as far as I’m aware. In a personal capacity I do that kind of research, and it’s slightly alarming if we don’t connect what’s happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan or any other countries to developments over here.

JW: Why do you think they don’t do that research – what do you think is at the heart of it?

GS: Well, I think you should pose that question to them, because they refuse to answer any of the questions that I’ve posed.

JW: But what’s your suspicion?

GS: [pause] My suspicion is that they need perfect victims. In other words, we need to defend somebody who might not have done a wrong – and I’m not saying that Moazzam Begg has – I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying that he has committed a crime or a human rights violation. And that’s why I find the statement after statement that Amnesty International has put out in his support somewhat surprising, because the issues that I am concerned with are addressed to Amnesty International.

JW: But you’re making a wider point aren’t you – that Islamic radicalism is treated, what, softly by liberals.

GS: Something like that – but we are not liberals, we are a human rights organisation and we should not be falling into the traps that many people do fall into.

[ENDS]

On Socialist Unity, Andy Newman has sought to tarnish Gita Sahgal as a pusher of something he calls ‘western liberal values’, which he (to use his own favourite word) disingenuously sets in opposition to genuine human rights, as if CagePrisoners were being denied a human right to go on tour with my donations to Amnesty. He pipes up for Amnesty, saying that they suspended Gita for giving them a bad name. Probably true – and this is what compromised organisations up and down the country do when they are confronted by a whistle-blowing insider. They tend to wish them oblivion c.f. Nevres Kemal*.

So it seems to be with Amnesty and Gita Sahgal. Gita Sahgal pursued the matter with her employer, as is proper. Why should she have to confront jihadi sympathisers on her own?

Recording from BBC Newshour, 9th Feb 2010 is below, an interview with Gita Sahgal and Asim Qureshi of CagePrisoner in which Qureshi does not deny, when asked, supporting violent jihad. Sahgal points out that the weight of expert evidence within the organisation was against associating with CagePrisoners. She also takes a correct view on the significance of the authority and approval conferred by a web link and a mention on an authoritative web site.

Andy Newman also accuses her of prejudice because she said she felt unsafe talking to Begg and Qureshi. I think it would be inconsistent if she didn’t feel unsafe. Besides which the correct response to somebody who tells you they feel unsafe in your presence is to ask them what they can do to make you feel better about things. The correct response when asked whether you, as representative of a human rights organisation, support jihad (holy war waged by Muslims to establish a Muslim land or to reassert Islam where it is threatened; frequently implicating an entity termed ‘the West’ as a target) is a straightforward “No”.

A little more:

  • On Gita Sahgal’s site, a selection of comments from Amnesty’s LiveWire site.
  • Rahila Gupta in The Guardian – via Mod’s ‘keeping up’ post – criticises Amnesty’s handling of this.
  • She should be reinstated (somebody on the Facebook support group who says they are in touch with her says she does want this) and the endorsement of CagePrisoners should end.
  • In Standpoint Mag Shiraz Maher’s analysis (Nov 09) – Al-Awlaki’s British Supporters Parts 1 and 2.
  • David T has it exactly right (quoted by a supporter on the Wall of the Facebook Group):

“The parallel is this.I am strongly in favour of freedom of expression. I think that it is a fundamental right. I think, in particular, that laws that criminalise Holocaust Denial are an absolute disgrace, and should be repealed. As a consequence of that view, I think that it was wrong that Davi…d Irving was imprisoned. I have said so.

Now, would I send David Irving out on a speaking tour, to talk about his experiences in prison? About how not being allowed to speak him mind affected him? Would I put up a video of Irving reading his own poetry?

No, I don’t think I would. You can better promote the principle of freedom of expression without Irving’s direct involvement.”

“What worries her is the assumption among some of her Amnesty colleagues that Begg is “not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights” (my italics). Sahgal raised the issue in two memos before her concerns became public at the weekend. But what she has identified is too important to be dismissed as an internal matter, namely an intellectual incoherence which isn’t confined to the higher echelons of a single human rights organisation.

The thinking goes like this: someone who has suffered terrible human rights abuses must necessarily be opposed to similar abuses against others. It’s a nice idea but history tells us it’s wrong; today’s prisoners of conscience may turn out on release to be doughty campaigners for human rights, but they might just as easily become tomorrow’s apologists for extremism.

Amnesty protests that “any suggestion that cooperation with any group or individuals has influenced our work on behalf of victims of religiously inspired abuses and violations is simply false”. But that isn’t the charge against the organisation. What worries its critics is that Amnesty’s name is being used to provide a platform, and legitimacy, for a cause inimical to its core values. Qatada, Hamza and Khyam are not prisoners of conscience. The Taliban isn’t a little bit misguided about women’s rights. Amnesty should consider its reputation – and keep its distance. “

*Nevres Kemal was a Haringey social worker sacked and subjected to character and professional assassination by her employers – sadly Michael Buerk’s BBC Radio 4 ‘The Choice’ interview of 1st Dec 2009, 09:00 is no longer available but her ordeal is an excellent illustration of what whistleblowers can expect to experience from their organisation. Not forgetting Paul Moore, former head of Group Regulatory Risk at HBOS who was sacked, agreed to the terms of a gag, and was later hailed as a herald of the financial crisis.

“The parallel is this.I am strongly in favour of freedom of expression. I think that it is a fundamental right. I think, in particular, that laws that criminalise Holocaust Denial are an absolute disgrace, and should be repealed. As a consequence of that view, I think that it was wrong that David Irving was imprisoned. I have said so.

Now, would I send David Irving out on a speaking tour, to talk about his experiences in prison? About how not being allowed to speak him mind affected him? Would I put up a video of Irving reading his own poetry?

No, I don’t think I would. You can better promote the principle of freedom of expression without Irving’s direct involvement.”

Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender unit Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

Update: Stroppyblog has Gita Sahgal’s statement. From it:

“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.”.

It makes me really angry these days that it takes centre or right journalism* to expose fundamentalist Islamism in British institutions – Guardian, Independent where were you? True to form, The Times does a bad job of exposing Begg – for them it is enough to be campaigning for the rights of suspected terrorists – as if suspected terrorists weren’t due their human rights.

More on Begg and his associates at CagePrisoners, working to present properly convicted murderers as ‘prisoners of conscience’.

One thing Begg is not is a human rights advocate. To be a human rights advocate entails universalism. Begg is simply partial to jihadis. Sahgal:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner”.

Modernity pulls this quote from the post of Faisal’s I link to below:

“Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Amnesty has no business hosting Begg. In fact, it’s disgusting. This statement released by Amnesty’s Widney Brown is an inadequate response to the main criticism. The main criticism has nothing to do with whether terror suspects have rights – they do, and they need advocates. It has everything to do with whom Amnesty recruits for this advocacy.

Nick Cohen / Martin Bright (my emphasis):

The Sunday Times blew the lid on Amnesty International’s relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for the Islamist totalitarianism. Amnesty responded by suspending Gita Sahgal, presumably because they believe she dared to speak to the press. She is the head of the gender unit at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, and has been campaigning on women’s issues for decades. She is rightly sick of the lazy alliance betweenthe supposedly liberal human rights world and the decidedly illiberal world of radical Islamists. She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Begg is now an integral part of an Amnesty campaign entitled Counter Terror with Justice. In an email to her colleagues at Amnesty on January 30 she wrote: “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” she wrote. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community as she is now finding. She has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists. She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (We can’t say more or Carter-Ruck will sue us).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Like I say, Amnesty is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. But this will not stand. And it’s not entirely out of the blue. They host Chomsky, apologist for atrocities which don’t fit with his world-view. They give inexplicable prominence to Israel in their mag (which we get because we give to them, and this is why I write). I’m getting the general impression they are the latest progressive organisation subject to colonisation by the post-Left. Get it together, Amnesty. Reprieve, whom I gave a largish wodge of money last year, are implicated too. Fuck this shit.

Update: More from Faisal at The Spittoon, Stroppy, Alec, Terry Glavin, links out from Harry’s Place. Join the Facebook group whose members are trying to figure out what to do next.

Update 2: Over on Harry’s Place, Rosie‘s comment is right, I think:

“Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

Update 3: Moazzam Begg responds; Harry’s Place responds to his response. More on CagePrisoners’ mixed messages – where’s the credibility in saying you love human rights if you also promote and associate with jihadis?

Update 4: Sahgal and supporters have a site – Human Rights for All.

Update 5: Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Newswire, 9th Feb.

*This is not about left and right. Anybody who doesn’t burn with anger at the double insult of Amnesty’s appalling choice of representative and its treatment of its employee is under a delusion. I just checked – I’m not right of centre, I’m here – still here:

Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 – 22nd Feb – 7th March

Going round by email:

Fairtrade Fortnight 2010

22 February – 7 March

The Big Swap

Fairtrade is a passionate movement for change, tackling poverty and injustice through trade. For two weeks this year, we’re encouraging people to swap their normal stuff for Fairtrade stuff. Swap your usual bananas for Fairtrade bananas, your usual cotton socks for Fairtrade cotton socks and most of all your usual cuppa for a Fairtrade cuppa.

The theme is tea, but any kind of swap will do…

Each and every single swap proves that the people of the UK want producers in the developing world to get a better deal. So whether it’s swapping your sugar or organising a community event, each and every action helps raise the issues that affect farmers, workers and their communities all over the developing world. For more ideas or to register your swap at thebigswap.org.uk. Every swap counts!

Events taking place in Redbridge will be posted on the http://www.fairtraderedbridge.org.uk website. Please publicise this Fortnight as much as you can- in your community groups, libraries, local shops, faith groups, in your schools, at your place of work. If you organise an event, don’t forget to tell us, so we can spread the word and promote it on http://www.fairtraderedbridge.org.uk.

Lots of posters, leaflets and 2010 London Directories are available for your events. There is also an Action Guide for those events’ ideas. Please contact me for copies.

The Fairtrade Redbridge group will be meeting on Wednesday 17 February to discuss last minute plans for the Fortnight. Fairtrade is a grassroots movement and is as strong as the people who are involved in it make it. Do come along and get involved!

Good luck and happy swapping!

Nicola

info@fairtraderedbridge.org.uk

020 8708 2272

The enormous collateral damage of the Digital Economy Bill

Dear [MP's name]

As your constituent I would like to alert you to key problems with the Digital Economy Bill currently being debated in the Lords (1). Specifically I’ll address those parts which relate to combatting copyright infringement through file sharing. I do not defend breach of copyright, which I recognise as an infringement of civil law. However, I would like to point out that this bill is the product of intense lobbying funded by multinational rights companies who are prepared to compromise the civil rights of their entire customer base for the sake of a holding pattern for their obsolete business model.

I have three main concerns, which I’ll outline briefly below.

1. The need for proportionate punishment which avoids collateral damage.

Under the current terms, the account holder is held responsible for the actions of each person who uses their connection, and everybody who uses the connection is punished along with the transgressor. Moreover, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are subject to heavy fines if they refuse rights holders’ demand for the personal details of infringers. ISPs oppose this bill (2).

Society is dependent on internet to the extent that we can reasonably consider it a utility comparable to water, gas or electricity. We pay our bills, access services, and shop on it. We learn on it – I work in a higher education institution which, under current terms, could be disconnected from the internet, a devastating collective punishment. Universities oppose this bill (3).

My neighbours, two teachers, could be disconnected if one of their two school-age sons were to illicitly share files over the family internet connection. Disconnecting the many small businesses along Barkingside High Street which depend on internet access could be fatal. The Federation of Small Businesses opposes this bill (4).

2. Low standards of evidence and poor appeals process.

Currently the bill permits unspecified technical measures – most likely involving a period of disconnection from the Internet – to be levelled at individual accounts holders on the basis of three letters of accusation from a rights holder. Infringers take measures to mask their identity; frequently the account holder is not the infringer. Because the courts are bypassed, there is no recourse to legal aid in an appeal.

3. Poorly-defined measures and secondary law-making powers.

Currently, the bill entitles law-making on the fly independently of Parliament and the Lords. It is unreasonable to expect the public to accept this bill on the understanding that the Secretary of State will decide the law later by Statutory Instrument. We cannot leave UK law open in anticipation of future, hitherto uninvented forms of transgression; this is particularly absurd given that the bill singles out broadband users and ignores mobile phone connections and established forms of file sharing such as disc and USB drive. It is particularly strange that a sliding scale of fines is not under debate. A fine would limit the collateral damage, and the terms of payment could be negotiated according the the income of the account holder.

I’d like to make the following urgent requests prior to the Commons debate on this bill:

  • Read the Open Rights Group’s briefing for MPs (5)
  • Back EDM 1997
  • Campaign for proportionality in this bill, and for a fine rather than disconnection.
  • Call for legal safeguards for individual internet users, including a clear appeals process with access to legal aid, be written into the bill before it is passed.

I have left a message to arrange an appointment, and look forward to discussing this further with you.

Yours sincerely,

[My name and addresses]
(1) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldbills/001/10001.i-ii.html
(2) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7079982/TalkTalk-would-fight-Digital-Economy-Bill-in-court.html
(3) http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/~/media/Files/members/consultations/2010/DEB_response_Puttnam%20pdf.ashx
(4) http://www.fsb.org.uk/policy/trade_and_industry
(5) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/assets/files/pdfs/p2p-briefing-print.pdf

(N.b. this omits the privacy concerns – ISP’s being forced by OfCom to divulge personal details of account holders to rights holders; possible end to anonymous file sharing.)