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Ramadhan in Guantánamo: The Best of Times

Written By: Moazzam Begg

It was the tears we all shed in the knowledge that each of us had a reason to weep. It was the sadness that was almost sweet. It was our ultimate symbol of defiance. It was the best of times.


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سم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله وحده والصلاة والسلام على من لا نبي بعده

I first read the Dickens’ classic, Bleak House, in solitary confinement, Camp Echo. The concentric part of this story is based on the fictitious – though accurately representative – and never-ending case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce which ultimately consumes and destroys the lives of its central characters, rather like the Supreme court decisions relating to the Guantánamo detainees. But it was the first sentence of another Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities, which reads, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ that captured my imagination back then. For that is precisely how I would have described the noble months of Ramadhan spent in US custody.

It was the night before the festival of Eid ul-Adha that I was sent from Pakistani custody into US custody at Kandahar. After the brutal initiation of being processed like an animal and locked in a cage made of razor wire, I couldn’t believe my ears when a visitor from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was wandering around the cells, with an army escort, handing out small pieces of meat and cold bread to detainees, uttering the words ‘Eid Mubarak’ [season’s greetings].

That was the first Eid my family ever spent without me. Another five (both Eids of al-Adha and al-Fitr) were to pass before I saw them again. For most people in Guantánamo, it is approaching 24 of these blessed days over a period of twelve years, dwelling in cages. And still they pray for deliverance.
However, the worst Ramadan I’ve ever had in my life was not in Guantánamo; that happened in Bagram – the US detention facility in Afghanistan. This was a place where already torture, humiliation and degradation of detainees regularly occurred. We were not allowed to talk, we were not allowed to walk or exercise without permission. We were not given access to natural light–or dark. We had to guess prayer times and were not allowed to pray in jama’ah [congregation], make the athaan [call to prayer] or recite the Quran out loud. I had to make tayyamum [dry ablution] for a year and had forgotten how to make wudhu [ablution] correctly by the time I arrived in Guantánamo, since water could only be used to drink, but not for wudhu. Anyone failing to comply with these rules was unceremoniously dragged to the front of the cell, their wrists shackled to the top of the cage and a black hood placed over the head. It happened to us all – sometimes for hours, and even days, on end.

When Ramadhan came I was already dreading it. I think we were all dreading it. There were no hot meals or drinks for us in Bagram. Fresh vegetables were a luxury we were not afforded. Fresh fruit was a rarity. There was none of the food we all so lovingly prepare and indulgingly consume during this month of abstention in our homes. There were no snacks between meals or keeping food until later: everything had to be handed back within 15 minutes – eaten or not. The meals were small pre-packed sachets, the types used for campers, and, sometimes, a mouldy piece of Afghan bread thrown in for good measure.

There was no taraweeh [Ramadhan night] prayer, no Eid prayer. In fact, the Jumu’ah [Friday congregational prayer] has not been performed by any of the Guantanamo prisoners for over a decade. The prisoners in Bagram and Guantánamo shortened every prayer not only as a mercy from Allah (for travellers), but as a refusal to accept any permanence of incarceration, even though that was–and continues to be–a looming reality in one way or another. It was a defiant rejection of imprisonment without charge or trial – a fact unnoticed and quite irrelevant to our captors.

As if to punish us for the very arrival of Ramadhan we were given the two meals the suhoor [pre-dawn meal] and iftaar [sunset meal], receiving the latter often several hours after sunset. On the day of Eid ul-Fitr [the festival marking the end of Ramadhan] we did not feast and make merry like most of the Muslim world. Instead we were made to fast from dawn to near midnight when we were finally given a food sachet. One of the guards, a young female to whom I used to speak often about Islam, history and literature was appalled by this and gave me some of her own food, at real risk to herself. It is a gesture I will never forget, but she was a rarity.

That was the worst of times. But it wasn’t over. I spent the following Ramadhan alone, in solitary confinement. In truth, I dreaded the approach of this Ramadhan too. I knew the outlook was bleak. I had to imagine how my family was passing this month and the festival that followed. It is a month of blessing, extra prayer, sharing, inviting others to meals; a month of anticipating celebrations with family and friends who, for me and many others, were both only a distant memory by then. I thought of all the Islamic rulings about fasting and how it all seemed rather immaterial here. In fact I could have not fasted, since I was shortening my prayer – hence I had the status of a traveller, albeit a coerced one. But I think fasting was a pronounced difference between us and them, and act of defiance too. After all, Ramadhan is the month of the Quran and the month the battle of Badr – the most decisive struggle in the history of Islam.

The concept of abstaining completely from food as well as drink from dawn to dusk was as alien to most burger-eating, fries-munching, Budweiser-drinking yanks as American justice was for us. Even the practicing Christian soldiers – who sometimes read the Bible, in front of me -couldn’t comprehend that the fast of the Muslim was like the fast of the Prophets, not the fast of Lent during which some devotees choose to refrain from having mushrooms on their pizza as a personal sacrifice to the Almighty. I remember telling a guard that in fact he ‘fasted’ every day, although his timings were different: the ‘break-fast’ meal every morning. He still didn’t get it.

After the passing of this Ramadhan in seclusion, with no contact from another Muslim for close to two years, I was longing, praying and agitating that the next one will be spent in the company of Muslims – even one Muslim. My prayer was finally answered. And thus, my final Ramadhan and Eid were both spent in the company of the world’s most dangerous terrorists (according to Bush) and the world’s finest examples of patience and fortitude (according to me).

Some guards ridiculed the athaan when the muezzin’s voice echoed around Guantánamo – particularly at sunset, when it clashed with the US national anthem that simultaneously rung out on loud speakers. What followed was a daily reminder to us all about our [soldiers and prisoners] purpose in life: one group – the one dressed in khaki and camoflague–stopped in their tracks, stood in the direction of their flag, raised their right hands and saluted the object of their devotion: the US flag. The other group –the one dressed in orange – also stopped in their tracks, stood facing east and raised both their hands to salute the object of their devotion: the One God, Lord of the Worlds.

During the day, despite the intense tropical Caribbean heat, we recited and memorised the Quran, had debates on any subject from medieval African history to Hubble’s expanding universe theory; from the Islamic ruling on captives to the latest Western methods of capturing them. We exercised vigorously, a few of us far surpassing the physical capabilities of the full time soldiers guarding us. Some of us controlled our anger and antipathy towards the guards during this month and offered smiles and kind words, when the opposite would have been expected. That too was an act of defiance.

The greatest defiance, to me at least, was wishing each other ‘hanee-an maree-an’ (bon appetite) at iftaar. It was also the spontaneous breaking out into anasheed [Islamic songs] in Arabic, Urdu, Pashto, Farsi, Uighur, Turkish and yes, even English; it was the recitation of poetry and prose in verses that could not have been compiled anywhere on earth but Guantánamo – the prison of the enemy where captive Muslims brought the first ever call to prayer; it was the individual calls of as-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmat Ullahi wa barakaatuh ya Abdallah [May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you, O servant of Allah] emanating from cell blocks containing invisible faces – faces that showered us with concern, hope and love, even though we couldn’t see them.

But there was an act of defiance even more potent. It was more powerful than throwing liquid cocktails at the soldiers, stronger than lashing out with shackled hands towards them or calling them ‘himaar’ [donkey] or ‘khanzeer’ [pig]; even stronger than the hunger-strikes that nearly claimed the lives of many a brave man. It was the prayer and the du’aa [supplication[ to Allah of the Imam reverberating, alone, amidst the chimes of razor wire rubbing against barbed wire impelled by a soft Caribbean breeze. It was saying ‘ameen’ [amen] in unison to a prayer we all wanted answered. It was the tears we all shed in the knowledge that each of us had a reason to weep. It was the sadness that was almost sweet. It was our ultimate symbol of defiance. It was the best of times.

و الحمد لله رب العالمين

This article was written by Moazzam on 23 July, 2013 and reposted on 29 Jun 2014.

(CC image courtesy of Walt Jabsco on Flickr)


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

Apartheid

British government is borrowing propaganda tactics from Apartheid South Africa

By Karen Jayes

A subtle but powerful hand ensuring that the stories told by Muslims about Muslims in the media fulfil a narrow political spectrum friendly to the government’s aims, is an old tactic, employed also by Apartheid South Africa to ensure black people remained segmented and politically weak.

The end aim of the British government’s War on Terror propaganda campaign is to use Muslims voices for the purpose of reinforcing the authority of the government and its Counter Terrorism laws. The South African Apartheid regime followed the same modus operandi globally and locally as the British government is today, using the media and its influence to turn black people against one another in order to sustain a system that violated the rule of law.

 

A global campaign that influenced David Cameron

 

To address global opinion, and after gauging the unpopularity of the Apartheid system, the South African government of the 1970s hired an expensive New York based PR firm called the Hamilton Wright Organisation to perpetuate the idea that the government was really caring for black people and looking after their interests. At the same time, it was portrayed as forming a bulwark against communism – the overwhelming message that the Organisation was tasked with was that Apartheid was preferable to communism, and its target was African Americans.

A recent book entitled Selling Apartheid by Ron Nixon details how this PR firm targeted black Americans specifically, pumping out “articles and films featuring beaming black South Africans and scenic wildlife, and distribut[ing] them worldwide.” The aim was to get black Americans talking in support of Apartheid, to counter growing opposition worldwide.

In the same way that the British government wants Muslims to repeat its baseless assertions that there is a ‘poisonous ideology’ that is ‘the root of terrorism’ – an inference to Islam – while ignoring the very real role that its domestic and foreign policies play in driving people to political violence, the goal of the Apartheid propaganda campaign was to get prominent black Americans to gloss over human rights violations and repeat their language word for word: Apartheid was good because it was countering communism.

 


Read more: Cameron strikingly similar to South Africa’s PW Botha at the height of violent apartheid

 

And speak they did. According to Nixon, prominent black Americans gave interviews, wrote columns and used key government posts in the US from which they perpetuated anti-struggle propaganda, urging the public to “go easy” on Apartheid South Africa – while Black South Africans were being imprisoned and tortured under the regime. The initiative also included televangelists. This was complimented by a slick and far-reaching campaign to pay journalists around the world to write positive stories about South Africa, feeding them information straight from the highest echelons.

Like the British government’s links to right-wing think tanks and lobby groups, Nixon mentions how the Apartheid government used Strategy Network International (SNI), to lobby British MPs to dissuade parliament from sanctions against South Africa. SNI also invited them on expensive sorties, trips to South Africa to show MPs that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. But the links of SNI go deeper and are even more relevant to the British government of the day and its modus operandi; David Cameron, in his early twenties, spent eight days as a guest of Derek Laud of SNI, “visiting mines and factories in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town” and forging ties with the organisation. Several other British MPs enjoyed such trips from SNI, which in turn was paid handsomely by the Apartheid government.

 

Local opinion was managed by a media that cultivated fear and division

 

According to a study for the Media Monitoring Project by Edward Bird and Zureida Garda, the system of Apartheid was reinforced through a complex interaction between authorities, society and the media which worked to perpetuate fear of blacks, while also subtly and not-so-subtly reinforcing their inferiority.

Racism was perpetuated by the lens through which media reported on violence, in the same way that the global mainstream media reports on the War on Terror. Whites were treated as victims with lives and loved ones, while black deaths were statistics, “reducing them to an unidentifiable mass” in the same way that Muslim victims of drone strikes and counter-terrorism legislation are treated. When it came to political activism, blacks were cast as “mobs”, inherently violent – while whites were its hapless victims, and little political context was given to uprisings and discontentment.

Political activism was criminalised in the same way that Muslim political activism on issues such as Palestine is being criminalised, in a clear effort to “delegitimize political activity”. This shallow, dehumanising lens has many echoes in current War on Terror media coverage and is underlined by the PREVENT agenda. Such a media landscape does no justice to parties and blocks the way to mutual understanding, respect for differences and peace.

The importance of the media in its portrayal of Muslims should not be underestimated. In the same way that South African media worked hard to divide society and subtly maintain the status quo in order to uphold unjust legislation, so the British media landscape casts the stage for the government’s fear-based and unjust counter-terrorism legislation.

The entrance into this landscape of often quoted right-wing think tanks that uphold War on Terror language and policy – as well as the media campaigns of so called “independent” grassroots organisations in the pay of the government show that the state’s hand is not only overt in terms of its legislation, but devious and powerful, serving to both influence media, dilute the power of civil society, and turn Muslims against their own.

 


Relelated: CAGE Report: We are Completely Independent: The Home Office, Breakthrough Media and the PREVENT Counter Narrative Industry

 

All of this has its end aim in maintaining the overarching War on Terror hierarchy. Little credence is given to conversations around the political and psychological terror meted out at Guantanamo Bay and other black sites around the world, or the ongoing terror of drone attacks across Africa and the Middle East, or counter-terrorism legislation that removes children from their mothers in the very Britain that espouses the Magna Carta as its greatest achievement. It is with these tools that this hierarchy is maintained. Even media portrayal of the torture of Muslims inevitably objectifies the Muslim body in the same way Apartheid objectified the black body. Such coverage, though necessary to reveal the depths of depravity of the War on Terror, still serves to cast fear into hearts, and, like a diluted version of the torture itself, fundamentally changes people, stealing from many their personal and broader political aspirations.

The brushing over of these truths by attempting to cast at centre of the media stage, so called “grassroots” organisations that are agreeable to the government’s fundamentally unjust laws – either by pulling the wool over their eyes, or entering into deals with them – must be seen for what it is: a psycho-social experiment that has behind it the flawed assumption that it is this current government that best looks after Muslim interests, as opposed to their own inherently powerful faith-base. In so doing it reinforces its own power.

But in the same way Apartheid did, this should serve only to awaken all right acting citizens concerned with justice to peaceful unified action. This, so that the War on Terror will also, by the grace of God, come to an end.

 

(CC image courtesy of jasonwhat on Flikr)


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

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Another World: Islamic State Discussion Listen to PODCAST

One of a series of discussions on the issues raised by the play,  Another World.

Venue:
National Theatre

Time and Date:
9:30 pm — Thu 05 May 2016

Panel:
David Anderson (barrister, and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation)
Moazzam Begg (Ex-Guantánamo detainee, and Director for the prisoner rights organisation, CAGE)
Shiraz Maher (Researcher at International Centre for Study of Radicalisation at King’s College)

Chaired by Helena Kennedy (barrister, and expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues)

Tickets:
£5 (£4 concessions)

 

*UPDATE* Listen to the Podcast here:


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

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South African security minister’s focus on ‘ideology’ as root cause of ‘terrorism’ is dangerous: CAGE Africa

Cape Town – The South African government’s counter-extremism strategy as outlined by South African Minister of State Security David Mahlobo statements in his recent Parliamentary speech has a higher likelihood of pushing people towards political violence rather than countering it, and poses a danger to civil society.

Mr Mahlobo claimed that ‘growing numbers of South Africans’ were joining ‘terrorist organisations’ without providing any proof for this claim or identifying the alleged ‘terrorist organisations’. This creates a broad catch-all for a variety of legitimate aid and community-based organisations to be criminalised. In fact, the vast majority of South Africans travelling to Syria do so to join various aid efforts or to settle there.

He also identified ‘ideology’ as the root cause of ‘terrorism’, when in fact the reasons for individuals turning to political violence are far more complex. Identifying ‘ideology’ as the enemy sets a dangerous precedent where the government focusses on ideas and behaviours as signs of ‘extremism’. This effectively turns the authorities into thought police. It fosters a society where certain ideas and conversations are criminalised, and where Muslims are stigmatised.

This pushes unpopular ideas underground where they grow unmitigated by open debate, increasing the likelihood that individuals will turn to political violence.

 

Karen Jayes of CAGE Africa, said:

 

“The global counter-extremism strategy, which the South African government is clearly following, is founded on principles that have no empirical basis and, according to the UN, they can pose a real danger to human rights and civil society.” “Instead of focussing on ideology, which is dangerous, what is rather needed is open and forthright debate about the real issues that have pushed the few individuals to political violence, namely local socio-economic concerns, US-UK foreign policy in the Middle East, and the ongoing securitised response to Muslim communities in Europe which is fostering fear and resentment.”

“There is good level of trust between Muslim communities and the South African government. This needs to be maintained, instead of taking an approach that erodes trust and creates animosity, especially when directed at young people. A securitised response in counter-terrorism will not stop individuals from being drawn to political violence. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that it only encourages more ‘radical’ behaviour.”

 

(CC image courtesy of GovernmentZA on Flikr); Left to right, Minister of State Security David Mahlobo meeting President of Angola Josѐ Eduardo Dos Santos along with President Zuma.


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

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We are Completely Independent: The Home Office, Breakthrough Media and the PREVENT Counter Narrative Industry


Download here – *Updated link

 

Over the past five years, the Home Office and a secretive government department called RICU, the Research, Information and Communications Unit, has been cultivating a network of ‘grass roots’ Muslim voices to promote ‘counter-narratives’ to combat the appeal of ‘extremist narratives’ among Britain’s young people. All of this is taking place with no public debate or oversight.

Working with top PR agencies and new media companies to target young people who fit the profile of ‘vulnerable young Muslim’, RICU’s interventions represent the first concerted foray into cyberspace by the British state with the aim of covertly engineering the thoughts of its citizens. In practice this means the chosen ‘grass roots’ organisations and ‘counter-narratives’ receive financial and technical support from the government for the production of their multimedia campaigns (videos, websites, podcasts, blogs etc.). These state-sponsored ‘counter narratives’ have in turn been promoted to specific groups of internet users, chosen on the basis of their demographics, the websites they visit, the social media accounts they ‘follow’, and the search terms they use.


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

HomeOffice

EXCLUSIVE: CAGE reveals groups and ‘products’ involved in covert Government propaganda programme

London – CAGE today releases a disturbing report based on a year-long investigation, that reveals the inner details of the covert Government propaganda programme, recently reported by the Guardian.

CAGE’s report “We are Completely Independent” published today reveals:

  • – How the Home Office has misled the British public, pushing state-sponsored propaganda at or about Muslims using seemingly independent groups and projects which include:

    ◦ Anti-tribalism Movement: Somalia: time to go home and Return to Somalia
    ◦ Armed Forces Muslim Association: Faith on the Frontline
    ◦ Don’t go to Syria, only give to registered charities: Syria Needs Your Help and Change the Picture
    ◦ Families Against Stress and Trauma: Families Matter
    ◦ Upstanding Neighbourhoods: KIKIT Pathwayz and Open Your Eyes: ISIS Lies
    ◦ Quilliam Foundation: #NotAnotherBrother
    ◦ Federation of Muslim Organisations: Ummah Sonic
    ◦ Faith Associates: Imams Online

  • – The government’s use of the Official Secrets Act to protect a PR company, Breakthrough Media, and conceal its role in producing state-sponsored propaganda

The report also explores in-depth:

  • Breakthrough Media, the PR company at the heart of the government’s PREVENT propaganda programme directed at Muslim communities
  • – The role of the secretive propaganda unit, Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), within the Home Office in directing the conversation within the Muslim community while it claims otherwise.
  • – Clear evidence of specific instances where Muslim organisations including charities have been controlled and manipulated by the Home Office to convey a state-scripted narrative on ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’.

Over the past five years, a secretive Home Office department called RICU, the Research, Information and Communications Unit, has been cultivating a network of ‘grassroots’ Muslim voices to promote ‘counter-narratives’ to combat the appeal of ‘extremist narratives’ among Britain’s young people. All of this is taking place with no public debate or oversight.

The covert nature of the ‘counter-narrative’ programme and the pretence that these messages come from independent, representative or ‘grass roots’ community organisations is deeply misleading and unbecoming of a government that claims to uphold transparency.

Further, the allegation that the PR company delivering a number of these counter-narratives is protected under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), is of great concern. If so, the use of the OSA to protect a propaganda programme would be a gross misuse of governmental power and authority. CAGE would never reveal anything believed to be risk to operational security in the UK.

Rather than engaging in genuine debate and consultations as to the causes of political motivated violence and ‘radicalisation’ – which demands a revision of the securitised response – the propaganda campaign has sought to impose a narrow ideological framework on these issues within the Muslim community.

This framework feeds into the controversial and failing PREVENT strategy, which is founded on a premise that maintains the state-sanctioned status quo and perpetuates the idea that the Muslim community is a suspect one.

 


See all our prevent related work

 

Ben Hayes, report author, said:

“We should be under no illusion as to what is going on here. When the government starts using community groups and NGO’s to disseminate government propaganda to hoodwink the public into believing they are authentic, ‘grass roots’ campaigns, it damages everyone in civil society”.

“Democracy requires clear lines between the security state and the police on the one hand, and civil society, public and social services on the other.

“Having railed against ‘sock-puppet’ NGOs and introduced a ban on charities in receipt of public money lobbying government, it is time for an honest conversation about the impact, legitimacy and effectiveness of the government’s own secret  propaganda programmes”.

Asim Qureshi, Research Director and report author, said:

“RICU is using ‘grassroots’ organisations as mouthpieces for a PREVENT sanctioned
agenda, which justifies a securitised approach to all aspects of Muslim life.”

“There is also evidence to suggest that the Government is using the Official Secrets Act to hide its relationship with the role of Breakthrough Media, the PR company driving the propaganda. This suggests an abuse of power and a contempt for open society.”

“The findings of this report should be a cause of concern to the British public. It confirms the hidden hand of those who wish to manufacture consent for the expansion of the security state.”

“We are calling for greater scrutiny of RICU work, to include an independent audit to assess the ethics and cost of the whole programme.”

 


The full report can be viewed here.

 


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

CASE 3_sml

Graphic: Student referred to PREVENT for voicing his views

‘Ahmad’ was referred to social services by his secondary school because he was perceived to be on the path to becoming “radicalised”. In one of his Home Economic classes, the teacher requested all students to bring in meat or poultry, but Ahmad said to his teacher in front of the class: “But government is banning halal meat!” The teacher questioned why, and Ahmad replied, “Because government hates Muslims”.

What Ahmad’s case reveals is that his politically held views, rather than being challenged by the teacher in the classroom, were used to infer “radicalisation”, and led to his referral to an external agency. Schools have a duty of care to their students, and it is important that this duty of care does not entail the reporting of an individual to an external agency without reasonable cause. Ahmad’s views could have been easily challenged and diffused within the educational context. Schools and educational institutions deal with student violence and bullying, for example, without resorting matters to external agencies such as the police.

 


Help us Expose Prevent: Donate to our most significant Project to date

 

This graphic, produced by CAGE, is based on our report Failing our Communities: a case study approach to understanding PREVENT. View our other similar illustrations here and here.

 

UntitledDownload the image here.

 


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

Mr Maina Kiai

UN Special Rapporteur: UK counter-extremism policies will target the innocent

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr Maina Kiai, has echoed much of what CAGE has been saying about PREVENT, saying that government policies are “resulting in a closing of space for civil society” and that measures “have been subtle and gradual. But they are as unmistakable as they are alarming.”

 

“PREVENT could end up promoting extremism”

 

Mr Kiai made his comments in the wake of a meeting held with representatives from British civil society, which CAGE attended on Monday, and after reviewing evidence related to PREVENT and other policies.

“Feedback from civil society on the impact of the Prevent strategy was overwhelmingly negative,” he said. “It appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatizing and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it.”

 


Help us Expose Prevent: Donate to our most significant Project to date

 

“Extremism” is vaguely defined and will target the innocent

 

The UN special rapporteur criticised the government’s use of the vaguely defined term “non-violent extremist” in its anticipated Counter-Extremism Bill.

“It is difficult to define the term “non-violent extremist” without treading into the territory of policing thought and opinion,” he said. He also warned that “innocent individuals will be targeted”. “Many more will fear that they may be targeted – whether because of their skin color, religion or political persuasion – and be fearful of exercising their rights.”

He continued: “the definition of “domestic extremism” was too broad and that peaceful protesters feared that they could be easily grouped in this category alongside real and violent extremists. I do not believe enough has been done to alleviate this concern.”

 


Read more: UN report on CVE issues a warning to the world, but shies away from the more challenging questions

 

Existing legal framework is robust enough to tackle terrorism

 

As successive governments have brought in ever more terrorism legislation, the special rapporteur believes that the already existing framework is sufficient. “It is the duty of the Government – and indeed all States – to do all it can to prevent, limit and mitigate potential terrorist attacks that could arise from extremism,” he said. “But I believe that the existing legal framework is robust enough to deal with any issues of extremism and related intolerance that could give rise to terrorism.”

 

Charities and organisations have a right to access Banking facilities

 

“All agencies concerned [should] do more to ensure that charities and other groups are not subjected to de-risking or de-banking,” he said.

CAGE has been operating without a bank account for over two years because of such “de-risking” measures. In addition, pressures by government regulators have forced charities not to fund or associate with CAGE. Mr Kiai said these actions have “serious consequences not just on the rights of association of charities, but also on the rights of their beneficiaries.”

His statements come in the context of the government wishing to impose a new clause to all new grants it provides, which will prohibit the charities from lobbying the government, effectively silencing them.

 

The Snoopers’ Charter could have a grave impact on rights

 

Mr Kiai also expressed concern around the Investigatory Powers Bill, which, he said, “if not exercised with restraint, could have a grave impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

 

UK setting a dangerous precedent for nations to “repress civil society”

 

The UN special rapporteur’s highly critical statement also alluded to the dangers of such policies and measures being replicated in other countries around the world: “These measures are likely to have serious ramifications if adopted by less democratic states whose intention is to repress civil society,” he said.

“It is imperative that the same standards that the UK calls for internationally on civil society space are implemented domestically.”

 


Related: Reactions to our high court victory: A win for civil society


 

 

(CC image courtesy of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on flikr)


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

CASE 2_sml

Graphic: How PREVENT examines children without parental consent

Ahmad’, a student, stopped taking part in music lessons based on his religious belief. Although he was not disruptive in lessons and was an excellent student based on behaviour and grades, he was invited to attend a meeting with the school’s PREVENT safeguarding officer. This occurred without the consent of Ahmad’s parents. Once his parent found out, they pressed the school on what had warranted the meeting with PREVENT and what had been asked of him during the meetings. The teachers either did not answer or they deflected the questions.


Help us Expose Prevent: Donate to our most significant Project to date

 
This graphic produced by CAGE, is based on our report Failing our Communities: a case study approach to understanding PREVENT. View our other similar illustrations here.

 

UntitledDownload the image here.


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.

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Britain’s tacit support is fuelling show trials, torture and killing in Ethiopia

CAGE Africa calls for full accountability for the UK government’s role in financing Ethiopian security forces and supporting the Ethiopian government in the name of counter-terrorism, which is facilitating widespread human rights abuses in the country.

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that more than a million pounds from Britain’s one billion pound Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is being paid towards the training of security services in Ethiopia.

The money has been divided roughly into two halves. One half is flowing towards a master’s programme in ‘security sector management’ run by Cranfield University in Ethiopia, which is attended by top-ranking security officials from Ethiopia’s brutal dictatorial regime, and the rest is going towards supporting the Ministry of Defence’s Ethiopian Peace Support Training Centre, which produces military forces for deployment in neighbouring countries including Somalia.

The Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is governed by the National Security Council, a Cabinet Committee of which Prime Minister David Cameron is the chair, and whose purpose it is to enforce Britain’s national security agenda, including its countering violent extremism (CVE) policies in foreign countries.

 


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This is clear evidence of a definitive link between Britain’s global CVE agenda, UK foreign policy, the protection of “UK interests”, and large-scale human rights abuses.

 

Violations of the rule of law in the name of counter terrorism

 

Ethiopian security services have used counter-terrorism legislation to enforce their power, and detain, torture and even kill opponents of the government.

It has held Andargachew Tsege, a British citizen and father of three from North London known as ‘Ethiopia’s Mandela’, for two years without charge and under torture. Tsege exposed corruption in the Ethiopian government and founded a pro-democracy party, earning him the ire of the government, which branded him a ‘terrorist’ and accused him of contriving a coup, which he denies. But according to reporter and foreign correspondent Ian Birrell, in the same week that a British Minister raised the case with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, DFID announced extra British aid to Ethiopia.

In November last year, security services shot live ammunition into crowds of students protesting the clearance of a forest for development in the Oromia Region. Students as young as 12 were killed, or arrested and detained in secret detention centres. Young people were accused of being members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), designated a ‘terrorist’ organization by the government, and they were tortured with electric cables. Human Rights Watch has declared that killings and arbitrary arrests continue, and students have reported how security forces have invoked the ‘counter-terrorism’ response.

 

Ethiopia’s ‘reindoctrination’ campaign angers Muslims

 

Ethiopia’s securitized response in the name of counter-terrorism has been accompanied by a concerted effort to shape Islamic belief, a more concentrated distillation of Britain’s PREVENT strategy which aims to subtly determine what is acceptable Islamic belief and what isn’t.

A group of 29 Ethiopian Muslims were sentenced in July 2015 to between seven and 22 years in prison after thousands-strong protests by Muslims of the Awoliya Movement against what they termed government interference in religious affairs.

This interference included the 2011 closure of Awoliya College and Secondary School, a highly regarded Islamic school based in Addis Abiba, and the sponsorship by the government of Al-Ahbash teachings – a form of Islam palatable to the government and the pinnacle of what is termed a “reindoctrination campaign” that resulted in widespread protests during which seven Muslims were killed by security services. The campaign is reported to have its end aim the issuing of Al-Ahbash ID cards to pro-government Muslims, while those without will have their movements restricted and be vulnerable to harassment by security forces.

“The trial and the verdict against the Muslim leaders is a political spectacle designed to conceal the regime’s reindoctrination campaign and silence long-standing grievances of the Muslim population,” wrote Awol Allo, a fellow in human rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science, for Al Jazeera.

The Awoliya Movement is a peaceful movement. Nonetheless, the ruling party has co-opted global ‘War on Terror’ narratives to wage a propaganda campaign against the movement, whom they accused of links with al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

The trial itself of Awoliya Movement leaders was also a farce. “The government presented various forms of evidence — including documents, audio and video of sermons and speeches by the defendants, witness testimonies and material obtained through surveillance. However, most of the evidence was presented in closed sessions, and the accused were not given adequate opportunities for cross-examination,” wrote Allo.

This court process mimics Britain’s own ‘terrorism’ trials, and PREVENT related cases, in which secret evidence is employed against the accused, in violation of the rule of law. The Ethiopian government’s divide-and-rule tactics aimed at the Muslim population, is not only reminiscent of South African Apartheid, but seeks to silence Muslim political expression in the same way Britain’s CVE policies hone in on Muslim individuals and organisations that take a principled stance on issues such as Palestine and the ‘War on Terror’.

 


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Legislation that enables human rights abuses

 

Ethiopia’s Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism in August 2009 is seen as a threat to free speech, freedom of association, thought and dissent, and has been used to detain and convict in trial proceedings that violated due process, journalists and bloggers who reported on corruption in government. Political opposition members and human rights activists have also been among those detained without charge.

In September 2014, the United Nations warned Ethiopia not to use counter-terrorism legislation to curb human rights.  “The right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of association continue to be violated by the application of the anti-terrorism law,” a UN panel said. “We call upon the Government of Ethiopia to free all persons detained arbitrarily under the pretext of countering terrorism. Let journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and religious leaders carry out their legitimate work without fear of intimidation and incarceration.”

 

The United States and Britain are silent in the name of the ‘War on Terror’

 

The UN warnings have little teeth, however. Ethiopia is allowed to continue with impunity in its campaign against human rights, because the US and Britain, and their allies, support its CVE stance and its military campaigns that fall in line with the ‘War on Terror’. This in turn is leading to an increase in individuals turning to political violence.

CAGE Africa calls for full accountability for Britain’s role in facilitating human rights abuses in Ethiopia, through training and supporting security service personnel by means of its Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund, rubber stamped by British Prime Minister David Cameron himself.

 


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Global CVE policies modelled on PREVENT and instituted by governments with a securitized stance, will alienate and antagonize Muslims. We reiterate our calls for dialogue and a return to the rule of law and fair judicial process as a means of ending the cycles of violence in the ‘War on Terror’.

 

(CC image courtesy of UNAMID on flikr)


NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.