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?
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.
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.”
- Joan Smith has a piece in The Indie – from it:
“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.