Amnesty International Worker Suspended after Publicly Criticising Links to Islamist Group

As is being widely reported, Gita Sahgal, the head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International UK, has been suspended from work after an article was published in today’s Sunday Times describing her warnings of possible damage to Amnesty’s reputation due to links with a former Guantanamo inmate named Moazzam Begg and his Cageprisoners organisation:

Sahgal, who has researched religious fundamentalism for 20 years, has decided to go public because she feels Amnesty has ignored her warnings for the past two years about the involvement of Begg in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

“I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

 …”As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner,” Sahgal told The Sunday Times.

The article includes a lame response from Amnesty:

Asked if she thought Begg was a human rights advocate, [Anne] Fitzgerald [policy director of Amnesty’s international secretariat] said: “It’s something you’d have to speak to him about. I don’t have the information to answer that.”

This seems negligent to me: surely Amnesty should have looked into Begg’s views and the nature of his activist activities before deciding how much involvement to have with him? Fitzgerald is not being asked how Begg regards himself – she’s being asked how Amnesty regards him. A statement on the Amnesty website is similarly evasive:

…Today, Amnesty International is being criticised for speaking alongside [Begg] and for being “soft” on the Taleban, when our record is one of unreserved opposition to their abuses over the years. 

Interestingly, the US and other governments that have violated human rights standards in the name of countering terrorism justify those violations by saying that our security can only be protected by violating the rights of others.  Mr Begg is one of the people that the US government defined as “other.”

But there is no place for the “other” in human rights because to argue that some people are more ‘deserving’ than others of having their rights protected is to argue that some beings are less than human.

To make the obvious point: just because Begg had his rights violated by the USA, it does not therefore follow it is a good idea to work with him. The wretched David Irving had his rights violated in Austria, but I can’t imagine him going on tour as part of an Amnesty freedom of speech campaign.

Cageprisoners has been under critical scrutiny for a while; Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens has written several pieces for Standpoint on the subject, noting, for example, Begg’s unconvincing efforts to play down his links to Anwar al-Awlaki, and the site’s reproduction of a letter from Abdul Muhid, who was jailed in the UK for incitement following protests over the Danish Muhammad cartoons. In his letter, Muhid thanks Cageprisoners for arranging for Muslims to write to him, including children. From looking around the Cageprisoners website, it seems to me that it goes beyond calling for due process and humane conditions for prisoners, to misrepresenting some dangerous characters as prisoners of conscience.

Sahgal’s suspension does not bode well – and disciplining an employee as a response to what might regarded as “whistle-blowing” is a likely to bring not just bad publicity, but also a costly employment tribunal.

Alan Lake vs Charles Darwin

While researching another subject I had reason to cast an eye over Alan Lake’s “4 Freedoms Worldwide” website. Lake, as has been widely reported, is a businessman who has supported the English Defence League in various ways, and his “4 Freedoms” website is a discussion forum for criticising Islam in the name of defending Western civilisation.

Here’a a diagram he posted on the subject of “Left Wing vs Right Wing”. Oh dear:

The spelling shows that this has come from an American source; the reference to “Liberal Democrats”  – placed close to “Totalitarianism”  – clearly refers to the liberal end of the US Democratic Party than to the centre-left UK party of that name. The fun stuff is the descriptions of the three dictators, with Stalin, Mao and Hitler all described as “Socialist Darwinist Communist killers”. At the base we read:

All of these Dictators believed in a so called “Master Race” which stems from Darwin’s so-called higher level of Evolution.