Kamal Labwani and the West’s appalling indifference #eu #syria #labwani

Last October, I wrote to over a hundred senior officials and politicians, many of whom are based in Brussels. I wanted to draw attention to Syria’s continual violation of human rights and  flagrant disregard for the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as the European Union was intending to sign an Association Agreement with Syria. I wrote very directly about the situation of Kamal al-Labwani.

You can read my text here:

Email r.e. EU Association Agreement and Kamal

The only person who could be bothered to respond was Liz Lynne, the Liberal Democrat MEP, who wrote back to me on the 6th November to say she was taking my concerns up with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy (if it wasn’t a distraction I would ask who the hell the rest of the elected politicians I wrote to think they are, disregarding correspondence as they enjoy the salaries and expenses I am part-paying for). You can read that email in full below:

Response from Liz Lynne MEP r.e. EU Association Agreement and Kamal

Yesterday, and demonstrating impressive commitment, I received a further email from Liz Lynne to which she attached a letter from Baroness Catherine Ashton, the new High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Read it – and be angry:

Ashton response to Liz Lynne

If you clicked the link to Ashton’s official page above you will have seen it is headed up with the following quote:

“I am looking forward to working closely with colleagues in the Council, the Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States to strengthen Europe’s foreign policy. We will do this with determination and with full respect for the values that the European Union stands for, above all peace and prosperity, freedom and democracy, the rule of law and the universality and indivisibility of human rights.”

What pointless drivel from a pointless politician.

The total press comment on her official site consists of two statements of congratulations following appointments and a statement of shock following the Lakki Marwat bombing.

No action.

No condemnation.

No statements of stiff resolve.

Instead, her words are the grey, empty platitudes we fear from out-of-touch politicians – politicians we still hope might be moved to action by the personalisation of the problems they otherwise put behind them at the end of the day. If this is what being “the best person for the job” means, as Baroness Ashton claims she is, then the words in her email are a damning indictment of the impotency of this newly-created position. Ashton points out in that report that EU leaders were “comfortable” with her appointment. I am sure they were: Ashton is clearly not someone for rocking the boat, but rather is happy to continue a policy of engagement that talks tough on human rights and political freedom, but achieves nothing:  maintain the status quo of holding our collective noses as we conduct business as usual.

I am glad she is at least “worried”. I am also worried.

This was Kamal in Basildon in 2005, standing proudly by his artwork with Chris Hyde and his great friend and supporter Maureen Thomas:

Kamal, Chris Hyde (L) and Maureen Thomas (R)

This was Kamal in 2006, peering from a prison cell:

Kamal behind bars

I am worried.

I am shocked.

I am bloody furious that my friend, who shares our values of freedom of expression, freedom of thought and peaceful dissent, languishes in a Syrian hell-hole whilst supposedly powerful politicians like Baroness Cathy Ashton appear to think that his incarceration is incidental to a “comprehensive political dialogue and longer term relationship that can build trust and ensure progress on human rights issues.”

What possesses these people to write such coded cant? She doesn’t even mention the fact that once signed, the agreement can be suspended if human rights violations are evidenced. Too embarrassing perhaps as people might question why it was being signed in the first place?

Look at those two pictures.

Think about them and what they represent.

Think of the gentle family man, the artist, the doctor, who is imprisoned because he wants his family, friends, colleagues and countrymen to enjoy the chance to talk freely, to believe and think what they want, to worship as they choose (or not) and to associate socially and politically without interference from state-sponsored goons.

If you are involved in politics, whichever party or none, ask yourself why you got involved – and if you could write the words of Baroness Ashton? (And don’t give me patronising rubbish about “a complex situation”,  “difficult discussions” and “diplomatic sensitivities” – you know I’ve heard them all.)

And if those pictures anger you, if the complacency of politicians and officials who are charged with representing our values as a country abroad frustrates you, if you abhor the political double-speak that expresses concern whilst the ink dries, then click one of the links below and take action:

Familiarise yourself with Kamal, his experiences and his beautiful, moving paintings

Write to Gordon Brown, our Prime Minister

If you are a UK national, sign the petition r.e. Kamal and the EU Trade Association Agreement

If you are on Twitter, Tweet the link to the petiton by cut and pasting the following: http://bit.ly/TZ4R7

Join Kamal’s facebook page

Thank you Liz Lynne for being interested – and for acting.

And shame on the rest of you, Liberals and non-Liberals alike, for your indifference.

You know who you are.

Show us why we should continue to even consider you worth our confidence.

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Detained Syrian human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni receives prestigious German award #albunni #syria #un

On April 24 2007 Anwar al-Bunni, human rights activist and friend and colleague of my friend, Kamal al-Labwani, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “spreading false or exaggerated news that could weaken national morale”. He had been detained since May 2006 in harsh conditions and abused by his guards. On 20 May, Kamal suffered a similar fate: sentenced to twelve years, later extended by a further three.

On 1 May 2008, Anwar al-Bunni was selected to receive an award from the Irish organisation Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. In June 2008 Martin Sheen and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD joined Front Line to celebrate his courage.

Just recently, in December 2009, Anwar’s courage and commitment to human rights was recognised again.

In December 2009 the  German Association of Judges awarded Anwar al-Bunni its prestigious human rights prize, recognition that is intended to strengthen and further respect for universal human rights and basic freedoms.

Those of us privileged enough to live in liberal democracies, where free speech is taken for granted, should keep good people like Anwar al-Bunni, Kamal al-Labwani, Mohannad al-Hussani, Haitham al-Maneh and Ma’an Aqil at the forefront of our thinking. We should not forget the sacrifice they and their families are making in order that, one day, they might enjoy those same freedoms. In that struggle, the Syrian government might remember that it is a signatory to the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ask itself how detention of these peaceful dissenters conforms with the commitments it has made as a member of the international community.

Whether in the UK, the US, Germany, or elsewhere in the EU, each of us should continue to hound our leaders to keep the Syrian regime under as much pressure as possible. It is only the spotlight remaining on the likes of Anwar, Kamal, Mohannad, Haitham and Ma’an that will ensure that Syria eventually faces up to its responsibilities – and its failure to adhere to the standards of conduct to be expected of a country that wants to be taken seriously on the international stage.

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Syrian regime disappears another journalist – Ma’an Aqil #aqil #labwani #syria

I received a disturbing email from Alkarama this morning.

Ma’an Aqil, a prominent journalist, was arrested on November 22nd. His would appear to be the latest in a wave of intimidation conducted by Syrian security forces against journalists and bloggers.

You can read the report from Reporters sans frontières on this link here: Newspaper journalist is latest victim of wave of arbitrary arrests and trials

Ma’an Aqil had been investigating government and corporate corruption. No surprises there then why the Syrian regime wanted to shut him up.

Friends and supporters of Kamal Labwani will want to make sure this latest detention is brought to people’s attention.

The full press release from Alkarama is below in PDF format (English and Arabic):

Arbitrary Detention of Ma’an Aqil

سوريا: اعتقال السيد معن عاقل

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