Adrian Briggs of our group attended the AIUK AGM on the 25th of June and proposed Lewes Amnesty’s motion that Palestinian activist Mohamed El Halabi be considered for Prisoner of Conscience status by Amnesty International.
The motion, authored by Adrian and Duncan Taylor, had the support of Amnesty’s Board and “fairly sailed through” the committee stage. It passed by 1069 votes to 53, with no one speaking against.
Mohammed El Halabi was imprisoned without charge in 2016. His case was delayed for years in pre-trial formalities. The court only gave a verdict after Israel’s Supreme Court gave them a deadline to return a verdict. The court then found him guilty on 15 June 2022, refusing to make any evidence public.
The Motion and Background Information
We request to Amnesty International UK and the International Secretariat that Mohammed El Halabi’s case be escalated as a priority by the IPOT research team, so that he can be designated formally as an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience.
For many years, Mohammed El Halabi worked for World Vision, an international aid organisation in Gaza. He was arrested by Israel in July 2016. The charges could not have been more serious: transferring 7.2 million US dollars a year from World Vision to Hamas. This despite the fact that World Vision’s entire budget for Gaza over this time was a fraction of this amount, and even though two independent audits concluded that no money was missing. Mohammed has been imprisoned by Israel without trial for more than 6 years. There have been 160 court dates. He has been separated from his family and lost his freedom. Mohammed’s imprisonment clearly has nothing to do with embezzlement, and everything to do with an attempt to discredit NGOs and aid agencies working in Palestine, by trying to link them to allegedly terrorist groups.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi addressing the European Parliament
Former Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi addressed the EU Human Rights sub committee in Brussels on Thursday 16th June. Following the address and discussion, he had a private meeting with MEP Isobel Santos. It follows his visit to the UK Parliament to meet with MPs there, organised in part by members of the Lewes Amnesty Group.
The Gauntanamo Network, started by Sara Birch of the Lewes Amnesty Group, is hoping to generate a transnational consensus for the closure of Guantanamo Prison. We are in contact with MPs in the UK and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg about starting parliamentary committees for this purpose. And we have helped organised visits by Mr. Salahi to meet with them.
Aside from putting pressure on the American administration to close the prison and try or release the men who have now been there for over 20 years, other countries can help resettle the detainees, so they do not end up in other prisons, still without evidence presented in a public trial.
Gary Ettle, Amnesty International’s country coordinator for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (IOPT) addressed a public meeting in Lewes about the institutionalised system of oppression and domination that exists in Israel and Palestine. Mr. Ettle discussed Amnesty’s new report, titled Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.
Other human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch in the United States and and B’Tselem in Israel have already used the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Mr. Ettle discussed the analysis behind Amnesty’s decision that the term applies to Israel as well.
At 277 pages, the report itself shows that the time taken to reach this conclusion has been spent in research and deliberation. The report draws a clear definition of apartheid within international law and documents what deliberate actions by the Israeli government have created that system within its borders and the areas it controls.
The public meeting in Lewes was organised by the Lewes Amnesty Group. The talk included short films produced by Amnesty International as well as a discussion of the report’s impact, Israel’s response and what people can do to support the dismantling of the apartheid system, the return of refugees and genuine human rights for Palestinians and Israelis.
Amnesty International has analysed Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and examined its key components: territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights. It has concluded that this system amounts to apartheid. Israel must dismantle this cruel system and the international community must pressure it to do so. All those with jurisdiction over the crimes committed to maintain the system should investigate them.
Journalist and activist Andy Worthington, author of the Guantanamo Files, discussed the current state of Guantanamo Bay Prison and the men held there.
His talk covered recent changes to how the men are being held, the Biden administration’s moves towards freeing the men (or lack thereof) and the differences between being “cleared for release”, “released” and actually free.
Members of the UK Guantanamo Network (which includes a number of Amnesty groups/activists) marched in London on Saturday 8th January 2022 to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on 11th January 2022.
We started at Parliament Square and marched to Trafalgar Square where speakers included former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Ken Macdonald the director of The Mauritanian, campaigner and journalist Andy Worthington and two speakers from Amnesty – Lise Rossi, Amnesty’s country coordinator for North America and Sara Birch of Lewes Amnesty Group.
When director Kevin Macdonal was doing Q&A for his film The Mauritanian at Depot Cinema, he was asked “What affect has the film had in the States?” and he had to answer “Very little”.
The release of the Mauritanian in America was frustrated by COVID, worse than it was here in the UK. Here the release was primarily on Amazon Prime, which worked well for a pandemic. But in the States it went to cinemas, many of which were closed.
But Lewes Amnesty group was able to get a showing this October just by asking nicely. The people at Depot Cinema took on this cause and went out of their way to make it a success.
So we figure, if we can do it, why not local groups in the United States? So we are launching a kind of internal campaign to help local Amnesty groups in America arrange showings of the Mauritanian in the next two months – leading up to the 20th anniversary of Guantanamo in January.
We have a new web page, a snappy URL, a contact form and a map of independent cinemas across the United States. It’s not a bad start:
Please spread this link to anyone you know who belongs to a human rights or civil society group – here or in America. It doesn’t have to be Amnesty. And if you would like to help us make this campaign a success, fill in the contact form and say so. We will need people to send emails, make calls and do research.
Our Campaign Co-ordinator Sara Birch organised this two day academic conference in conjunction with the University of Brighton. Have a brief look at the link below and count the international academics, lawyers and journalists that gave presentations from all over the world.
This event made a prestigious contribution to the study of America’s terrible decision to invent a place where human rights do not exist. Over two days, experts on Guantanamo examined the law, the hidden histories and agendas behind the prison, and why it is still open.
Guantanamo doesn’t just hurt the men inside and their families. It has had a corrosive effect on American justice and America’s place in the world. Sara, Andy Worthington and legal students from the University of Brighton gathered some extremely smart people to untangle this mess.
It was mentioned by more than one participant that the event not only examined the facts, but had strengthened the community of activists working to close the prison. The event was recorded, and a publishing company have shown interest in a book. More to follow!
Back in the flesh and back in the streets, the Lewes Amnesty Group wrote letters and cards to prisoners and the people holding them on the 27th of November at the House of Friendship on School Hill in Lewes. Turnout was almost at pre-covid levels and over 80 letters and cards were sent.
This year we were writing in aid of Zhang Zhan, one of the few citizen journalists to report on COVID-19 in China and was sent to prison for it. We were also writing to Mikita Zalatarou, a teenager sentenced to five years in prison colony for running away from police in Belarus, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, facing the possibility of life in prison for protesting against the Thai government.
We had cancelled our biannual Christmas concert because of Covid, but two of the musicians offered to play anyway. And, while allowing for a judicious amount of personal space, we managed to fill St. Anne’s church. The music played by Robbie Hughes and Rachel Fryer gave us a varied, festive performance and the cakes were seriously good. You missed out.
Charity Concert for Lewes Amnesty Group
Robbie Hughes, violin Rachel Fryer, piano Brahms: Sonata No. 1 in G major Op.78 mmt 1 Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 Op. 24 ‘Spring’ mmt 1 Massenet: Meditation from Thais Kreisler: Syncopation
The Brighton website, magazine and news channel The Latest followed us around for a few days. They filmed the Q&A session after The Mauritanian and then our vigil in Cliffe High Street.
The vigil had a good turn out. We were joined by members of the Brighton Amnesty Group. Some passers by who had seen The Mauritanian at the Depot Cinema, were moved to spontaneously grab orange jump suits and join us.