On the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).
Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.
Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.
I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.
No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed.
To take action for Andy, please email your MP via Reprieve’s website, and ask them to please put pressure on Boris Johnson to act.
On October 18, his lawyers at Reprieve, and four other organisations — Article 19, the Ethiopia Human Rights Project, Fair Trials International and Redress — sent the following letter to Boris Johnson in response to an open letter by the foreign secretary on August 26. Full of inadequate responses to the lawyers’ demands, this letter and its failings are dissected by Reprieve here, in an article entitled, “7 reasons why Boris Johnson is wrong not to call for British father’s release from Ethiopian death row.”
The NGOs’ letter also came about in response to Johnson’s failure to answer questions about Andy’s situation in Parliament. As Reprieve described it in a press release, “The letter comes after Mr. Johnson was accused on Tuesday of evading questions on the issue in the House of Commons. Asked by MPs why he had not yet called for Mr. Tsege’s release, the Foreign Secretary failed to respond, saying that ‘ongoing legal action’ prevented him from doing so. Mr. Johnson appeared to be referring to an application for judicial review brought by Mr. Tsege’s family which concluded last month, with no appeal sought.” However, “[e]arlier this year, former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions in Parliament on the case some weeks after the legal case was initiated.”
Reprieve’s press release also noted that, “In June this year, the Ethiopian government promised the former Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, that Mr. Tsege would be given ‘legal access’ – however, to date, Mr. Tsege has yet to be allowed to contact a lawyer.”
Ethiopian courts have been used in recent years to imprison and sentence to death political dissidents, protestors, journalists and bloggers. The Ethiopian authorities have previously told Foreign Office officials that Mr. Tsege is unable to appeal his death sentence. Today’s letter from the human rights organizations warns that Mr. Tsege faces little prospect of due process in Ethiopia.
Mr. Tsege’s family in London are unable to contact him. This week, there were concerns that the British government’s limited consular access to him could be under threat, after Ethiopia announced a ‘state of emergency’ that reportedly includes restrictions on the movement of diplomats in the country.
Just yesterday, AFP reported that the Ethiopian authorities “have arrested more than 1,500 people since declaring a state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to a statement published by state-controlled news agency Fana.”
Maya Foa, one of Reprieve’s directors, said, “Andy Tsege’s ordeal at the hands of the Ethiopian government is nothing short of an outrage. His family in London are desperately worried about him, and MPs are rightly asking why Boris Johnson won’t request his return. It’s appalling that the Foreign Secretary is unwilling to explain himself to Parliament. As we’ve written to Mr. Johnson, the Ethiopian government has shown zero interest in delivering on its weak promises on Andy’s case – and the current crackdown is yet more evidence that Ethiopia’s ruling party has little mercy for its critics. Boris Johnson must start listening to our concerns, and urgently request Andy’s return to Britain.”
Below is the letter the NGOs wrote to Boris Johnson calling for him to act on Andy’s behalf without further delay:
The Rt Honourable Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
TO: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Urgent request that the UK reconsider its refusal to call for Andy Tsege’s release
Dear Secretary of State,
Our organisations are writing in response to your recent open letter on the case of British father-of-three Andy Tsege. [i]
At time of writing Mr. Tsege has been illegally held on Ethiopia’s death row for more than two years under a death sentence imposed upon him in absentia, having been kidnapped in an international airport in June 2014 and rendered to a prison widely referred to as “Ethiopia’s gulag”. [ii]
We urge you to reconsider your refusal to call for Ethiopia to return Mr. Tsege to his home in the UK and your decision instead to limit your efforts in the case to asking that he be allowed to see a lawyer. We believe this approach is misplaced and potentially counter-productive. Mr .Tsege is, after all, not a criminal, but himself a victim of crime.
Your emphasis on securing Mr. Tsege a lawyer ignores the fact that both the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have confirmed that “there is no appeal process” available to Mr. Tsege, and that it is “not possible” for him to appeal his in absentia death sentence. [iii]
The FCO’s approach is further undermined by Ethiopia’s failure to deliver on a promise to your predecessor five months ago that Mr. Tsege would be granted legal access. [iv] Since then prison authorities have yet to even pass Mr. Tsege pen and paper with which to request legal advice.
Should Mr. Tsege at some point in the future be allowed to write a letter to a lawyer, he would find this of little use: Reprieve has now contacted all 20 lawyers on the FCO’s own list of proposed lawyers in Ethiopia and 19 out of 20 did not respond or did not even have valid contact details.
By focusing solely on the request that Mr. Tsege be granted a lawyer, the FCO is neglecting to address Mr. Tsege’s illegal kidnap, illegal transfer to Ethiopia, and illegal in absentia death sentence – grave abuses which have led the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to call for Mr. Tsege’s immediate release. [v] Worse still, the approach risks lending credibility to a sham legal process that will only prolong Mr. Tsege’s ordeal.
Mr. Tsege was sentenced to death in 2009 in proceedings described by the US State Department as “lacking in basic elements of due process” [vi], which he was not even invited to attend.[vii] The African Commission is currently reviewing the complete lack of due process that Andy is facing. It strains credulity to think that at this stage a lawyer could help Mr. Tsege navigate the same corrupted justice system.
Your letter claims that “Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries”, but in fact the UK has frequently requested and secured the release of British nationals who have been arbitrarily detained. Lee Po in China [viii] and Karl Andree in Saudi Arabia [ix] are just two recent examples.
Given the catalogue of abuses Mr. Tsege has suffered, and the reality that he will not and cannot obtain legal relief in Ethiopia, we urge you to take a similar approach to his case, and call for his immediate release and return to his family.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss this matter further.
Maya Foa, Director, Reprieve
Henry Maina, East Africa Director, Article 19
Soleyana S. Gebremichael, Coordinator, Ethiopia Human Rights Project
Jago Russel, Chief Executive, Fair Trials International
Dr. Carla Ferstman, Director, Redress
[i] FCO Correspondence on Andargachew Tsege, British national currently detained in Ethiopia: open letter to supporters published on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 26th August 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/andargachew-tsege-british-national-currently-detained-in-ethiopia-open-letter-to-supporters
[iii] Note of a meeting between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 16 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998; Note of a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom, 21 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
[v] Opinion adopted by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 72nd meeting, 20-29 April 2015. In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur similarly concluded that Ethiopia had violated the Convention Against Torture in sentencing Mr Tsege to death “without due process”. Report of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to Human Rights Council (March 2016), para 148.
[vi] ‘Scenesetter for Codel Meeks visit to Ethiopia: February 16-17, 2010’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 8 February 2010, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[vii] ‘Attempted coup or opposition round up’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 27 April 2009, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[viii] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: ‘The FCO’s administration and funding of its human rights work overseas: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2015-16, published 10 July 2016. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/545/545.pdf
[ix] Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP’s statement on the return of Karl Adree to the UK, 11 November 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-statement-on-the-return-of-karl-andree-to-the-uk
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.
Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.
As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday it was 100 days since a slim majority of the British people who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum decided that they wanted us to leave the EU after 43 years’ membership, a generally ill-considered decision that I wrote about at length at the time — see my articles UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends, Not Giving Up: Photos from the March for Europe in London, Saturday July 2, 2016 and As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care.
As the Tories’ annual conference gets underway, Brexit hangs over it like a black cloud, however much our unelected Prime Minister Theresa May wishes that were not the case. The beneficiary of the collapse of David Cameron’s government after the referendum — and the discrediting of the Tories’ main cheerleaders for the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — May has done very little since coming to power, beyond expressing a largely unpopular desire to fill the nation with grammar schools.
On Brexit, as a generally unenthusiastic member of the Remain camp, she has tried to wash her hands of the referendum’s toxicity, appointing three stooges to preside over our departure from the EU — Boris Johnson brought back, embarrassingly, as foreign secretary, plus David Davis, allegedly in charge of negotiating our departure from the EU, and the crook Liam Fox, who resigned because of inappropriate behavior in 2011, when he was the defence secretary, after breaking the ministerial code by repeating allowing his friend Adam Werrity, a lobbyist, into meetings with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors. For more on the failures of Boris Johnson, David Davis and, particularly, Liam Fox, see this withering criticism by the Tories’ former business minister Anna Soubry. Read the rest of this entry »
It was with some shock that, two weeks ago, I read the following headline in the Guardian: “Government blocks plan to force out London estate residents.”
The article was about the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, one of the largest estates in western Europe, built between 1967 and 1977. Labour-held Southwark Council is in the process of destroying the estate, replacing it with new, privately-funded housing in which genuinely affordable flats will be almost non-existent, and ensuring that many of the estate’s residents are socially cleansed out of London — or at least have to move to less desirable boroughs than Southwark.
At the Aylesbury, the council is working with Notting Hill Housing, a former social homebuilder that has enthusiastically embraced the drive towards building private housing and offering unhelpful — and not genuinely affordable — part-rent, part-buy options for former social renters that has been prompted by government cuts.
Astonishingly, this is the same Southwark Council that engaged in social cleansing at Walworth’s other huge estate, the Heygate, for which they were soundly criticised. The estate was sold for a pittance to the Australian developers Lendlease, who are currently building a monstrous new private estate, Elephant Park, which features no genuinely affordable social housing. The Heygate’s tenants, meanwhile, have ended up scattered across south east London, Kent and beyond, as the graph below shows. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday (September 17), a “Refugees Welcome Here” march and rally took place in London, following up on a massive march in support of refugees that took place in March, which I photographed and wrote about here. Organised by Solidarity with Refugees, the event (on Facebook here) had the support of dozens of organisations, including Action Aid, Amnesty International UK, Freedom From Torture, Friends of the Earth, Help Refugees UK (the main provider of support in Calais), Hope Not Hate, Oxfam and Stand Up to Racism.
There were many thousands of people on the march, which was colourful, noisy and positive, with numerous passionate and poignant handwritten placards and banners, as well as placards produced by some of the many organisations supporting the march.
However, it was impossible not to be disappointed that there were not many more people marching, as the largest humanitarian crisis in the lifetimes of anyone born after the Second World War continues. The statistics are sobering and horrific. As the Observer reported today, in an article entitled, “Why won’t the world tackle the refugee crisis?”: Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 3, I visited Parliament Square at the end of the latest March for Europe. The first March for Europe took place on July 2, and was attended by around 50,000 people. See my photos here, and my article about it here.
Saturday’s march and rally was a smaller affair, but many thousands of protestors marched in London, and in other cities across the UK, and I believe more people would have taken part had it taken place a few weeks later, after the end of summer had more thoroughly worn off.
The March for Europe organisation describes itself as “a diverse, inclusive movement seeking strong ties between Britain and Europe,” and it provides an opportunity for those of us who were — and are — dismayed by the result of June’s EU referendum — to leave the EU — to highlight our concerns; essentially, as I see it, that leaving the EU will be so disastrous for our economy that MPs, generally supportive of remaining in Europe, must demand that Article 50, triggering our departure, is not triggered. If MPs refuse, those of us who perceive how disastrous leaving the EU would be need to do all we can to publicise the truth about what our isolation would mean. Read the rest of this entry »
“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” said Theresa May, as she became the leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister, following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest.
This is bad news for those of us who fear Theresa May’s authoritarianism, and, I must say, what seems to be her Islamophobia, but for now I want to focus not on her beliefs in detail but on her Brexit statement, as the fallout from the EU referendum 18 days ago is still the most important story in the UK, despite the mainstream media’s constant efforts not to acknowledge it as such.
May’s repeated message about Brexit is at odds with a letter delivered on Saturday to the outgoing Prime Minster David Cameron, the architect of our Brexit fiasco — just the day before he was booed at Wimbledon — signed by 1,054 lawyers, who point out that the EU referendum result is not legally binding, because it was only advisory. As they state, “The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.” Read the rest of this entry »
I find it hard to express sufficiently my contempt for the Labour MPs who, on the day the EU referendum result was announced, squandered one of the greatest opportunities in the Labour Party’s history for attacking the Tories by, instead, launching a pathetic coup against their democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
With half the country reeling in shock, the economy in freefall, and David Cameron announcing his resignation, it should have been child’s play to point out that Cameron had called a referendum he didn’t want for the most narrow and cowardly of political reasons (to appease Eurosceptic members of his own party, and UKIP), and that Boris Johnson, who had won it, had also done so for narrow political reasons, to advance his own career, and, moreover, didn’t even believe in the cause for which he had been campaigning.
Instead, a coup that had been planned for months, but that was not initially intended to take place straight after the referendum, was brought forward, and enacted with a drip-feed of resignations that focused the media’s attention almost exclusively on Labour’s meltdown. As a result, criticism of the referendum, and of its result, evaporated. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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