Letter #17

Dear Andrew Jones MP – I am writing as a concerned constituent.

I am a blogger. I have the liberty to write what I want on the net. My blog is at www.ijopona.org. However, I am writing about people further up the ladder. People who I admire and respect.

Fifty-three Commonwealth heads of government are meeting for a summit in London this week. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth, lauded it as a unique network of 53 states with a responsibility to exert global influence based on a shared commitment to democracy, the rule of law and good governance as enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter of 2013.

But the record of Commonwealth countries concerning the rising number of killings of journalists — whose work holds a mirror up to the societies they live in – points to a dismal failure by the authorities in some member states to protect the lives of journalists targeted for their work. UN statistics also show that in all but a few cases the killers are shielded from facing justice by a climate of judicial impunity. Where is the rule of law in that?

In the five years from the start of 2013 to the end of 2017 as many as 57 journalists in Commonwealth countries were killed in the course of their work, according to UNESCO, the UN’s agency with a mandate to promote freedom of expression.

Most were killed to stop them from publishing reports into abuses of power, crime or corruption, often linked to public figures or law-enforcement officials.  Among the recent shocking murders of journalists are those of editor and journalist Gauri Lankesh, shot outside her home in Bangalore, India last September, and Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, killed in a car bombing one month later.

Yes, Commonwealth countries like India have pioneered some of the world’s most liberal Right to Information laws, and all member states are publicly committed to democratic standards including the separation of powers, independent courts and the rule of law.

Yet Commonwealth governments have evaded the chorus of demands for them to take determined actions to confront the pattern of violent assaults and other arbitrary actions aimed at silencing journalists and news media whose role is to inform the public. The London summit is the right time for them to put this on their agenda. Will you help?

Luckily the Commonwealth has vigorous civil society organisations which already monitor cases of violence and intimidation against journalists and others who document abuses of civil and political rights. The Commonwealth Charter gives a mandate for strong action – despite the reluctance of some member states — by acknowledging the ‘surge in popular demands for democracy and human rights’.

UNESCO’s figures give this revealing breakdown of the 57 killings of journalists in Commonwealth countries in the five years up to the end of 2017: Pakistan 23, India 18, Bangladesh 8, Nigeria 3, and one each in Kenya, Malta, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Even more troubling, perhaps, is the picture that emerges from UNESCO’s records on the lack of effective judicial follow-ups in countries where journalists have been killed. The figures are based on states’ replies, made on a voluntary basis, to requests for information made by the Director-General of UNESCO after every verified killing.

Will you help?

The latest official report published by the Director-General of UNESCO recorded state authorities’ responses to killings of journalists during the ten-year period from 2006 to 2015. In that decade 104 journalists were killed in eight Commonwealth (including 9 journalists killed during Sri Lanka’s civil war up to 2009). Those statistics — based on information supplied by the governments concerned — fail to record a single case in which the perpetrators were brought to justice. Not one.

The figures are incomplete because too many states routinely fail to send back information about prosecutions, despite persistent requests from the Director-General of UNESCO. Further research shows that a handful of journalists’ killings in Commonwealth states have led to successful prosecutions – for example, in the cases of TV journalist Wali Khan Babar, killed in Pakistan in 2013, and Gautam Das, a Bangladeshi crime reporter killed in 2005.

A first step towards building confidence would be for all Commonwealth states to pledge to open investigations into the scores of unresolved cases and report any progress to the UN.

Journalists are only one of many categories of people who may face violence or persecution in Commonwealth countries, with all their diversity and ethnic and political tensions. But half a dozen United Nations resolutions adopted since 2012 have recognised that journalists face special dangers because of their work and deserve protection in order to counter corruption and abuses of democratic rights.

In advance of the London summit a coalition of grassroots Commonwealth professional organisations has come together to urge government leaders at the summit to face up to this stain on the organisation’s record.  The Commonwealth Journalists Association joins the Commonwealth’s impressive networks of lawyers, legal educators, parliamentarians, academics and human rights advocates in putting forward a balanced and practical set of Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance.

The Principles are written guidelines for democratic rules of engagement, so to speak, between the media and the parliament, judiciary and executive.  The Principles will not be legally binding as Commonwealth states have made clear that would be anathema to them. But can at least serve as a manual of good practice to move the countries of the Commonwealth towards ending the scourge of impunity and fulfilling their public commitment to protect the media’s right to report on public affairs.

The heads of government meeting in London’s royal palaces this week should realise that if the Commonwealth cannot be part of the solution it may well be part of the problem.

Will you help?

Yours faithfully,
Andrew


Jones’ replies have been thin on the ground for a while now – If he ever replies then I will post up his reply in the comments of this post, below. I might not like what he has to say, but, in the interests of democracy both sides need to be heard.

Letter #16

We seem to be having a ‘wholesome’ day here at Ijo Pona HQ. Kathryn is at a Church Parade with her Girl Guide group and I am left to my own devices. Rather than just head back to bed to catch forty winks, I decided to try and put my time to good use.

That is, after all, the purpose of being here as a person – you have no say in your arrival or what you arrive with – but it is up to you to make something of it. And, if I can help other people get along, then it will help me get along.

This is what I ‘made’ today …. I decided to write to Andrew Jones, Harrogate & Knaresborough MP. Believe it or not, the right to a trial before imprisonment is still not available for people fleeing strife in foreign lands. Habeas corpus (/ˈheɪbiəs ˈkɔːrpəs/; Medieval Latin meaning literally “that you have the body”) is a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful. The right to a fair trial – for only crossing a border – is still being denied to thousands by the British Government.


Dear Andrew Jones,

There is growing criticism of Britain for being the only EU country without a statutory time limit for the detention of immigrants, including criticism by the UN Human Rights Council. Every year the Home Office locks up tens of thousands of people – including survivors of torture, trafficking and rape – and gives them no idea when they will be freed. The lack of a time limit destroys mental health. Self-harm, suicide attempts and deaths are common. This is state-sanctioned suffering on a vast scale.

Survivors of torture, trafficking and rape are among the tens of thousands held in overcrowded centres – for months, or even years – where a recent investigation uncovered “widespread self-harm and attempted suicides”.

The Home Office has paid £21.2m to migrants it unlawfully detained over the past five years, laying bare its “chaotic decisions” it was alleged.

Now campaigners believe a looming immigration bill offers a fresh opportunity for MPs to pass an amendment to impose a strict 28-day limit. Will you back this movement?

“A stain on our democracy”

– Andrew Mitchel, Former International Development Secretary

Almost 30,000 people are detained each year in the centres, with several hundred held for longer than one year. One person was held for more than four years, according to The Independent. I don’t think it’s right to hold people in detention indefinitely. It’s wrong in principle and this is an issue that really matters.

A suspension of Habeas corpus in this day and age, Andrew Jones? Really?

Half of immigrants leaving detention centres end up being released into the community – rather than deported – where monitoring them cost 80 per cent less, according to the latest figures.

Will you back a 28-day limit if it is supported by a fresh independent review into the welfare of immigration detainees, to be published in June by Stephen Shaw, a former prisons and probation ombudsman?

Most British people would be surprised to find out it is possible to be detained indefinitely in this country – something that goes back to Habeas corpus. I would like to see Britain use methods that have proven to be effective in other countries – such as Sweden – if Stephen Shaw says any consequences with a 28-day limit can be overcome. Will you add your voice?

“Indefinite detention is not only cruel, but costs hundreds of millions of pounds.”

– Afzal Khan, Shadow Immigration Minister

I will re-iterate my point: will you back a 28-day limit if it is supported by a fresh independent review into the welfare of immigration detainees, to be published in June by Stephen Shaw, a former prisons and probation ombudsman? Or, will you blindly suspend Habeas corpus, unlawfully, for another year?

Yours faithfully,

Andrew

Letter #15

 

The Repeal Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation. It will rewrite our laws after we leave the European Union. Those laws affect every one of us – our friends, our families, our children. Laws against discrimination and privacy invasions. Protections for workers, LGBT+, disabled and older people. Rights we fought for and won long ago.

The People’s Clause makes sure the rights we’ve gained from EU membership aren’t going anywhere. The package:

  • Creates a black-and-white promise that ministers can’t use their Repeal Bill law-making powers to roll back our rights protections
  • Makes sure Parliament scrutinises how ministers rewrite laws, to prevent backroom deals that dodge the democratic process
  • Brings all our fundamental rights protections home from the EU in full force – including a fully enforceable Charter of Fundamental Rights and non-discrimination laws – and doesn’t let the Government get away with carving out a gaping human rights exemption from its promise to preserve legal consistency after Brexit.

The case for these amendments is strong. The Government knows it. The Repeal Bill in its current form isn’t fit for purpose. It takes the people out of the process and lets a few ministers decide everything for us. Plenty of MPs and peers – from all the major parties – know it. Which is why dozens have stood up for the people they represent and signed up to the People’s Clause amendments.

Every week, more join the list.

Among all the noise about Brexit, we need to make sure we are heard.

_________

Dear Andrew Jones MP,

I hope you are managing to keep warm despite the freezing conditions – we are currently choosing Heating over Eating. The matter I am writing to you about was prompted by the pressure group LIBERTY UK. They highlighted the effect of the Repeal Bill, and, I was alarmed. We need a formal commitment in the text of the Repeal Bill ensuring ministers have to protect every one of our rights in UK law after Brexit. Will you back amendments already tabled to the Repeal Bill – guaranteeing there will be no rollback of rights after we leave the EU?

The Repeal Bill gives a handful of ministers unbelievably broad powers to change our laws with no real scrutiny from Parliament or the people they represent. As my representative at Parliament, will you to stick up for me and my fellow constituents & raise the level of parliamentary scrutiny on the Repeal Bill?

Many of our hard-won rights are protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the General Principles. The Government says it wants legal consistency after Brexit, but, according to rights watchdogs LIBERTY & Amnesty UK, it has made a political decision to leave those rights behind. Will you hold the Government to its promise not to make the Repeal Bill about political policy choices and support an amendment to maintain our existing rights?

Ministers keep promising they’ll protect our rights as we leave the EU. So why not put that in black and white in their new law? I am worried that there seems to be a growing trend that fewer and fewer people have the power to shapes the Nations destiny – will you be a Voice of the people or toe the Party line?

Yours faithfully,

Andrew

Letter #14

Dear Andrew Jones,

First of all, please let me wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I have gained a lot from our correspondence throughout the year. I am signing off 2017 with a final letter to you when I should be working. I work as a freelance website designer so I can give myself the luxury of fitting my work around my lifestyle.

The matter I am writing about to you today is to make a point of standing alongside Liberty and nine other leading Human Rights organisations in the European Court Of Human Rights to challenge the United Kingdom Government’s vast cross-border surveillance regime. I do not know if you are aware of proceedings in the case?

The organisations that I stand with are Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and groups from Pakistan, South Africa & Egypt – together, they are making the case that our Government’s surveillance programmes are unlawful.

The legal case centres on secret UK & US mass surveillance programmes called Tempora, Upstream and Prism – which were exposed by the famous whistleblower Edward Snowden.

All of the organisations that I stand alongside (Liberty, Amnesty International etc.) believe that their communications were spied upon by the government – which violates the right to privacy and free expression under the European Convention on Human Rights and it jeopardises the confidentiality and protection of sources so crucial to their work.

Liberty, Amnesty International et al. regularly communicate with human rights campaigners nationally and internationally. The organisations I am writing about, regularly speak to journalists, lawyers, prisoners, victims of state abuse, politicians, government officials and whistleblowers. Their emails and phone calls often contain sensitive data and privileged information. The integrity of the before mentioned body’s communications and their ability to protect their sources is crucially important to their work challenging the powerful and defending people rights.

The case I am referring to was previously heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal who revealed in 2015 that GCHQ had indeed spied on Amnesty International and South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre.

I eagerly await to hear the outcome of the ruling because this is a blatant abuse of power. Granted, people still break the law and we need to protect the law-abiding; but at what cost. A Police State? Because that is what Fortress Britannica is turning in to. This is not cricket, but, it is what I have come to expect from my Government.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew

Letter #13

I have the good fortune to be a member of Amnesty and Liberty. They are both Human Right’s Groups who campaign for mankind’s betterment – I figure all I have to do is click a few buttons to express my point of view – how different that could be if I was just born in another country.

So, when Amnesty UK emailed me asking for support I jumped at the opportunity – I have emailed another letter to Andrew Jones – Member of Parliament for Harrogate & Knaresborough.

I admit that most of the following is copied and posted from Amnesty’s web site – but the more people who hear about it the better. Strength in numbers … right? To petition your own MP to attend the debate please click here.

Arrested at the airport

Nazanin had been visiting family in Iran with her daughter Gabriella, and was about to board a flight back to London from a Tehran airport when she was arrested by officials believed to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Her toddler daughter was handed to her grandparents who had accompanied them to the airport, while Nazanin was taken away.

A family torn apart

Following arrest, Nazanin was subjected to 45 days in solitary confinement. Her family had no idea where she was, and it wasn’t until a month later that she was allowed to see them; or to be granted access to a lawyer. Any contact with her family in Iran and the UK is now limited and controlled.

Gabriella, now three, has had no choice but to remain in Iran with her grandparents. She gets to see her mum just twice a week and only gets to speak to her dad, Richard Ratcliffe by Skype. Richard has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s freedom from their home in the UK.

Nazanin’s ‘crime’

Nazanin was arrested on vague charges, held in solitary confinement for months, and – following an unfair trial – was sentenced to five years in prison for ‘membership of an illegal group’.

The charge was in connection to her work at the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), a charity organisation promoting socio-economic progress, independent journalism and the rule of law, and her past work at BBC’s Media Action.

We therefore consider Nazanin a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and association: she must be immediately and unconditionally released. 

Health concerns

Prison is taking its toll on Nazanin. She suffers from severe arm, neck and back pain and needs urgent specialised medical care in hospital. In recent months, she has had very limited movement in her arms. The specialist who requested her hospitalisation warned that there is a risk that her right arm and hand will be permanently damaged if she doesn’t get the medical care she needs.

Kamal Foroughi

Nazanin is in no way the only dual national in prison in Iran. Kamal Foroughi, a 77-year-old British-Iranian man, is also imprisoned in Iran serving a seven-year prison sentence in Evin prison, Tehran, for alleged espionage, with no evidence or explanation ever provided. He was arrested in May 2011 by men in plain clothes who did not show an arrest warrant or explain the reasons for his arrest.  He was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months before being convicted in an unfair trial.

Like Nazanin, Kamal is separated from his family – he hasn’t seen his daughter, son or two granddaughters for six years. He has not had any outside visitor for over 2,000 days and he’s not allowed to write or receive letters.  

Also, like Nazanin, he has not been provided with much needed specialist medical care. Despite needing an operation to remove cataracts in both eyes and screening for prostate cancer, Kamal has repeatedly been denied leave on medical grounds. Read more about Kamal’s case on the next tab.

UK’s role

Although Prime Minister, Theresa May and other Ministers have raised concerns about Nazanin and Kamal with the Iranian government, and have called for Kamal to be released on humanitarian and medical grounds, it is deeply concerning that they have yet to call for Nazanin’s release.
It is time for the UK government to up the pressure and publicly call for both Nazanin and Kamal to be released from prison and brought back home to the UK.

Kamal Foroughi & Grand-daughter

Kamal Foroughi should be free

According to Iranian law Kamal has been eligible for release since January 2014 as he has served a third of his sentence. His lawyer has made more than 50 applications for his release on this basis but there has never been a formal response. In addition, he has been barred from legal advice and contact with his family at various points throughout his six-year incarceration. He was denied access to a lawyer from the day of his arrest until the day before his trial. Now, in prison, he has only very limited access to a lawyer. He has not been allowed British consular assistance either.

Kamal has not seen his daughter, son and two granddaughters for six years (they all live in/near London) and was not allowed to call them for the first three years of his detention.

He has not had any outside visitor for over 2,000 days.

He is permitted regular phone calls but must only speak in Persian, which family members in the UK do not speak well, making it difficult for them to communicate with him.

It is time for Kamal to come home.


Dear Andrew Jones MP,

As you may be aware, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, 18 July at 4.30 pm – 5.30 pm in the House of Commons on British prisoners in Iran. This is a real opportunity to show the government how much support there is in Parliament for the release of two British-Iranian dual nationals, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi. I know you will have a busy Parliamentary schedule, but I am writing to ask you if you could please attend the debate and join the call and ask the UK government to press for their release.

Background:

Nazanin was arrested in April 2016, when she was attempting to board a flight home to the UK after visiting her parents in Iran with her then 1-year-old daughter Gabriella. She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence after she was convicted of “membership of an illegal group” in connection with her work at the charity, Thomas Reuters Foundation, and her past work at BBC Media Action. Nazanin is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association through her professional work and must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Kamal is a 77-year-old British-Iranian man serving a seven-year prison sentence in Iran, for alleged ‘espionage’, with no evidence or explanation ever provided. He was arrested in May 2011 and was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months before being convicted in an unfair trial. Under Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic penal code, which allows for the conditional release of prisoners after serving one third of their sentence, Kamal is eligible for release and has been since January 2014. The Iranian authorities must apply this provision without discrimination.

Thank you for your support.

Andrew Backhouse


In the interests of democracy I will publish Andrew Jones’ reply in the comments section of this post.

Letter #12

I am worried. I am worried for the people of Great Britain and the people who have travelled here to make it a home. So, I did all I can do at the time of writing and sent off venom to Andrew Jones MP – Member of Parliament for Harrogate. The issues in this letter affect everyone. I will type up his reply in the comments section.

Dear Andrew Jones MP

First of all, congratulations on attaining your new position – you have the authority to make life a lot better for your constituents from all backgrounds; could this be the dawn of a golden era in British Politics? General elections are as surprising as they are frequent these days. And whilst (at the time of writing) the frenzy of speculation continues as to what will happen next, they are also the opportunity to ask ourselves what type of country we are or want to be.

Andrew Jones, when did we become a country that boasts about being a “hostile environment” for migrants? Or one that shamefully abandoned it’s international responsibilities in the refugee crisis? Why are there 30,000 people locked up indefinitely in immigration detention centres on our shores, having committed no crime? When did it become okay for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to threaten to scrap Human Rights Laws that “get in the way” of draconian and ineffective counter-terrorism powers?

For too long, and increasingly since the 2015 election, I’ve seen politicians exploit fear to create laws that divide, discriminate and and disregard human rights.

In a desperate bid to look tough on immigration and strong on security at any cost, border controls have crept in to every part of life Schools and doctors are forced to pass sensitive data to the Home Office to support deportation. Landlords face jail if they let a home to a “wrong” person, and homeless charities are forced to flag up vulnerable rough sleepers. A new criminal offence of “driving while illegal” will lead to racial profiling on our streets – risking major damage to police/community relations.

These laws have made life worse for all of your constituents, Andrew Jones – spreading racial profiling, fear and division in our community at a national level. It has turned private individuals and trusted public servants in to unwilling border police.

We are all collateral in this misguided hope of looking tough on immigration at any cost.

Yours sincerely,

Andy

Letter #11

Now then, this is a matter I am fuming about – I have signed numerous petitions and called on respective MP’s (when in Northumberland and East Yorkshire – China … let’s say I wasn’t represented).

The fact that our nation’s policy makers are in-debted to the factions that they may have to legislate against is a no-brainer: ‘McDonalds Healthcare’ & ‘Monsanto Bottled Water’, ‘Murdoch News” … (naw wait!) could all be a reality unless these measures are curbed.


Dear Andrew Jones,

In order for the UK to have a true democracy, the interests of the electorate should be at the core of government policy.

As long a big business and the media fund political parties, the interests of their sponsors and a desire to remain in power, prevents a government from fulfilling its duties.

Electoral funding should be minimised. It should be financed with public money, by a process that reflects an equal distribution to either parties or MPs. A process to be decided by parliament, if the motion is agreed.

Media owners hold to much influence over voters. This does not benefit the electorate, but their own interests and is facilitated by their sponsorship of politics.

The same applies to corporations, in which MPs should be allowed no investments, financial (or positional) for life.

Andrew, this may sound like a radical gesture – but it is common sense: I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Backhouse

Andrew Jones – Letter To Kathryn #1

A few weeks ago, Kathryn signed a petition to ask Parliament to ensure the fair breeding and sale of animals as pets. I will try and dig out the petition she signed and paste it in the comments. I was quite shocked to hear back from our local Member of Parliament, Andrew Jones MP,  – he serves Harrogate & Knaresborough. This is what he said:


Dear Ms Backhouse

Thank you for contacting me about the breeding and sale of pets.

Everyone who owns or is looking for a pet will want to know that it has had the best start to life. I entirely share your concern that for thousands of animals born each year to irresponsible breeders, their first weeks can be spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention that they need.

I am therefore glad to say that the Government is cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the licensing system and giving councils the power they need to take action.

These plans will ban sales of puppies or kittens at too young an age, which in most cases will be less than eight weeks. It will also require anyone breeding or selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal license. Irresponsible breeders who break these rules face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.

They will introduce a single ‘animal activities license’ covering pet-shops, boarding houses and riding stables, to improve the process and make enforcement easier. Pet shops will also need to give customers written information about the animals they buy, with details about the five welfare needs owners must meet around environment, diet, behavior, housing and freedom from pain. This is particularly important when buying exotic pets, which have very specific needs.

With more and more pet sales now taking part on the internet, this market should be subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops. Anyone trading commercially in pets online will need to be properly licensed, to help make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Jones MP