Elections are distracting affairs and somewhere along the line I missed the return to the internet of one of the most important resources for freedom of information campaigners of recent years: WikiLeaks.
Having survived the attempts of the US intelligence services to destroy its activities, WikiLeaks suspended itself at the beginning of the year in order to raise funds to ensure its staff could be paid and that a more robust framework for its vast quantities of information could be established.
Wikileaks has become a vital tool of the campaigning trade, especially when attempting to expose the sometimes questionable dealings of multinationals, governments and banks. For instance, WikiLeaks recently reported on the efforts of big pharmaceutical companies to spy on the World Health Organisation.
Take a look – and offer any support you can.
June 2010 will be the third year that Britain has celebrated Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.
There is a shocking amount of ignorance about the historic and cultural identities of the travelling communities in Britain. Few who are concerned about the impact of travellers on the greenbelt will pause to think about traditions that extend back half a millennium, more rooted in the history of the British isles than many would ever imagine.
As Jake Bowers writes on the GRTHM website:
“Quite simply, ignorance about who we are and where we come from leads to ruined lives. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month celebrates our culture and history by tackling the negative stereotyping and prejudices that have led to this situation.”
Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, History Month has gained international significance, Gay McDougall, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority issues, issuing a statement welcoming the United Kingdom’s commitment to recognising the contribution of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to British society [see the PDF below].
This year promises to offer the widest range of activities to engage the settled community yet. I hope it crosses your path in places other than this blog. More than anything, I hope we are all big enough to rise to the challenge of considering Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues with an open mind.
Alkarama is increasingly alarmed at the state of health of Haitham al-Maleh and has issued the following appeal to the Syrian President:
Universal jurisdiction is that principle of international law whereby states exercise criminal jurisdiction over individuals accused of committing crimes beyond the boundaries of the state taking action. Despite its origins in the Nuremberg Trials, universal jurisdiction is a controversial concept, as the trial of Augustus Pinochet demonstrated.
Realist critics such as Henry Kissinger are quick to talk up the limitations of universal jurisdiction. Reports such as this from Alkarama offer an important balance and, more importantly, guidance on the way in which universal jurisdiction works in different legal domains.
To mark Syria’s National Day, 17th April, friends and supporters of Syria’s wrongly incarcerated prisoners of conscience protested outside the Syrian Embassy at 8 Belgrave Square, in London. Between 70 and 80 people were in attendance, many of them signing a letter to the President that was delivered via Embassy officials.
Simultaneous protests mounted in Berlin, Bern, Brussels, Canberra, London, Montreal, Paris, Stockholm and Washington.
There is always a danger that in the tumult of an election we forget about those who would wish to be doing exactly as we will be able to do on May 6th: vote for those we want to represent us.
Don’t forget our friends: Kamal al-Labwani, Anwar al-Bunni, Haitham al-Maleh and Muhannad al-Hassani amongst the many, many others. We must do what they cannot and speak up for their right to be heard.
Pictures from the demonstration are below.
As Syria prepares to celebrate 64 years of independence, the European Union continues to work towards cementing relations with Syria through its EU-Syria Mediterranean Association Agreement. Maureen Thomas, however, has alerted me to a demonstration outside the Syrian Embassy to remind the world that despite its reformist rhetoric, peaceful and democratic reformers such as Kamal Labwani, Anwar Bunni, Haithem Maleh and Muhannad Hassani are still locked up on trumped-up charges in defiance of Syria’s commitments on civil and political rights.
In an email to Maureen, Iyas al-Maleh, son of imprisoned human rights champion Haitham al-Maleh, thanked her for mobilising support for the demonstration, to be held at 3pm on Saturday 17 April, 8 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PH. Similar demonstrations are already planned for Brussels and Washington, with work ongoing to organise similar protests in Berlin, Geneva and Paris.
If you are a friend and supporter of Kamal, and his fellow prisoners, please see if you are free and visit the sign-up page to register:
News of the proposed demonstration comes at the same time as the UNHCR reports that the Syrian regime continues to harass its political internees. It makes for upsetting reading and you are left wondering at the strength of men who still find the courage to defy the authorities even in Adra prison, preferring to surrender their visiting rights instead of succumbing to the indignity of being forced to meet family in prison garb.
So please see if you are free on 17 April and make a standard for freedom of conscience and human rights.
And our friends.
Kamal, in prison uniform
Kamal Labwani’s family have written to Maureen Thomas, describing the latest humiliations in Adra Prison, Damascus. Maureen’s covering comment is a timely reminder of the human frailty of our friends who have been imprisoned in Damascus: “One can only admire the prisoners’ pride, determination and courage but I worry for Haytham, Muhannad, Anwar and Kamal who still have a long time to go with no money or medication to help keep them healthy.”
The letter from Kamal’s family speaks for itself:
“We are ok actually and our father but now we are not visiting him because he asked us not to.
Him and all the prisoners of conscious in Adra prison reject to be visited because the authorities want them to wear prison pajamas during the visit and not civilian clothes or even sports pajamas as they say they want them to be equal like other prisoners.
So the prisoners of conscience rise up claiming that they should be also equal to other prisoners in other rights like their visit is not being watched and have the right to visit for two hours rather than only half an hour and other fair requests. They say if you want us to be equal let us be equal in every single right. It is really not a matter of wearing prison pajamas or not, they want to be treated like other prisoners. If the authority wants them to be equal with civil prisoners they wish to be really equal.
And so now we cannot visit him because if we go he will refuse to come out and see us. We cannot give him money and provide him with medication. Not just us but the other prisoners’ families.
I would not be accurate if I called what the prisoners of conscience are doing as a strike because I really don’t know if they will end it or keep doing this until their demands are accomplished. We really don’t know what the circumstances will bring but until now it seems that they insist to go on.
I’m sorry for this long letter. We all hope the new days will bring good news.”
New Camera, Town Centre, Close-up
New Camera, Town Centre
They look faintly sinister, Orwellian almost, like something that would be more at home in 1984 than 2010. These new cameras with I presume 360 degree vision are designed to make us feel safer.
Forget North Korea. Britain is the most surveilled state in the world. We have 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras in the UK – over 4 million cameras watching us as we go about our daily business. Now three more in Basildon.
In 2006 you may recall that members of the Surveillance Studies Network produced a report on the surveillance society. It makes for shocking reading:
And what do these cameras do?
They don’t deter the petty anti-social behaviour that plagues most ordinary shoppers – kids on bikes were still racing dangerously and recklessly through the crowds at the weekend. How do they improve the quality of our lives?
In 2005 the Home Office published a study into the efficacy of CCTV. It’s results were far, far from conclusive:
I find this continual erosion of personal space alarming.
And the Tories show their true colours when they come out in favour of the surveillance state.
I meant to post this correspondence with Liz Lynne MEP before now. It provides some interesting information, not least of all the link to the EU’s delegation to Syria which would appear to be a useful way of staying up to date with news regarding the EU’s engagement with Syria.
We’ve corresponded previously about the EU/Syria agreement (I used my personal address).
I’d be grateful if you or your office could briefly explain what the preparatory phase described in the attached link is – and what opportunity there is to raise pertinent human and civil rights concerns. The stock response when anyone in the EU is questioned about this is that engagement with Syria will promote human rights. However, no-one has yet pointed me to an example where that sort of engagement with other countries has produced a measurable improvement.
In addition, the Syrians have even indicated a readiness to sign yet. (There was also something very galling about the very earnest discussions around “civil society” at the recent Damascus conference, right at the time the Syrians are continuing to “disappear” journalists, human rights lawyers and opposition activists.)
Your advice would be much appreciated – together with contact details for anyone you think I might appropriately contact.
(Writing in a personal capacity, rather than as Secretary to the Parliamentary Party)
Thank you for your further correspondence regarding the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Syria. The preparatory phase is part of the conciliation procedure which is used in the formulation of this Agreement This process, in part, requires consent from the European Parliament, which currently has not been given.
The provisions of the European Union’s Association Agreement with Syria are the prerequisite for full European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) status, but signature and full participation only come about once a number of steps have been adhered to. The aim of the agreement with Syria is to support economic and political reforms in the region. This process requires dialogue on human rights, democracy, terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. The EU advocates engagement and diplomacy as the best way to do this, particularly in relation to reforming human rights.
However, the EU can also deny engagement and put on hold its support to instigate human rights reformation. For example, the EU’s decision to suspend the upgrading of its Association Agreement with Israel means that the expansion of trade and economic relations in the region have been delayed. Consequently an upgrade to the Agreement, thus further engagement, is unlikely to occur until Israel increases its efforts to abide by international law.
In order to stay up to date with the latest bilateral and regional developments in EU-Syrian relations I suggest viewing the website of the Delegation of the European Union to Syria. A link to the site can be found here:
You can also contact the Delegation directly via email on
Thank you again for your correspondence and I hope this information is useful to you.
Liz Lynne MEP
One of the country’s leading champions of those imprisoned in Syria for human rights abuses is Maureen Thomas. The journalist Christiane Schlötzer recently sent her a copy of her article about the disappearance of Haitham al-Maleh that first appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung last weekend. Geoff Williams has translated that article.
“They fear an old man”
How a 72 yr old lawyer disappeared in Damascus
Haiham Maleh, Süddeutsche Zeitung
After lawyer Haitham Maleh gave his last interview he received a telephone call. He was to report the next day to an office of the secret service. Maleh didn’t. A day later three men in civilian clothes were waiting for the 78-yr-old when he arrived to unlock his car, at midday, in the middle of Damascus. The three strangers overpowered him and forced him into a car. Now the Syrian lawyer gives no more interviews. Instead, his son Iyas Maleh is giving them, and this week in Berlin he has been recalling his father’s fate.
It was the week in which the USA appointed an ambassador to Syria for the first time in five years of diplomatic ice-age. President Obama sees Syria as a signficant player in the Middle East and would like to release the country from its close alliance with Iran. Iyas Maleh regards the approach to Damascus by the West with scepticism. “The offer to improve relations must be linked to conditions” is his demand. “Syria has to show that it respects human rights.” Europe cannot simply “turn away” Maleh told the Süddeutsche Zeitung . He didn’t understand that both the Union (CDU/CSU) and the FDP stressed in Parliament (Bundestag) recently that deportations to Syria should remain possible. The opposition had demanded a stop to them.
Iyas Maleh did not know where his father was for eight days after his kidnap in Damascus on 14th October 2009. When he then appeared before a military court it became clear to the son that it would be a long time until his father was freed. The charge against him is one of “spreading false information and so undermining national morale”, an accusation frequnetly used “when they want to throw someone in prison. Punishment is 3 to 15 yrs imprisonment”. Haitham Maleh has already served six years in jail. He was chairman of a prohibited “human rights organisation” in Syria. Most recently, in written articles and an interview with the London-based Arabic TV company Barada TV he insisted on the rule of law within the state and criticised state corruption.
Thanks to a letter smuggled out of prison Iyas knows that his father has to sleep on the floor of an overcrowded cell. Iyas Maleh was also once arrested, in 1980, after which he fled to the USA. The 49-year-old computer engineer has not returned to Syria since. He has three siblings also living abroad. Their father remained in Syria.
“This allegedly so powerful Syrian government is afraid of an old man,” he says bitterly.
Translated by Geoff Williams