5th December, 2011

‘Moral relativism’ – what Orwell actually said

by Sunny at 10:38 am    

This paragraph from Glenn Greenwald caught my eye:

One other point: whenever you dare to suggest a comparison between the United States of America and whatever country happens to be the New Hitlers of the moment, you get accused of moral relativism.

That has always struck me as so bizarre, because moral relativism actually refers to precisely what Orwell described: “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

As Rudy Giuliani said when asked if waterboarding is “torture”: “It depends on who does it.” That is moral relativism.

This sounds about right. People who use the ‘moral relativism’ argument to shield the USA and UK from criticism really annoy the hell out of me. Now it turns out they also misinterpret what Orwell said. How… Orwellian?

Filed under: Civil liberties
4th August, 2011

Against capital punishment

by Rumbold at 10:17 am    

After a vigorous online campaign, it looks as if the return of capital punishment may be debated in parliament soon, with pressure on the government to announce a free vote. Campaigners want the death penalty restored for crimes such as the murder of police officers or children, and have the support of a number of MPs.

I have never really been convinced by the moral arguments against the death penalty. There are some who argue that executing a criminal for murder is stooping to their level. On that basis then, imprisoning a kidnapper for ten years is also stooping to their level, as they are being confined and held against their will. Nor is killing someone relatively quickly and painlessly notably more inhumane then locking them up for years in a drug-addled and violent prison, where the risk of assault is common and gangs control the situation.

What makes me opposed to capital punishment is the possibility of error. Courts and juries make mistakes. It is awful every time this happens, but it does and will continue to do so, whether because certain evidence hasn’t come to light, or the defence is poor, or because of other factors. Given that jailing an innocent is the ultimate failure of a justice system, there needs to be as many safeguards in place in rectify any such situation. If someone has been imprisoned and is later freed as a result of a miscarriage, they cannot be given those years back, but they can be compensated and be free from then on. There is no such recourse with the death penalty.

The other common argument used in favour of the death penalty is cost. Yet in America, whose legal system is largely based on the same principles as ours, the average death row prisoner spends around fourteen years there before being executed. In terms of expense, the state of California has found that is costs an extra $90,000 per prisoner per year to keep a prisoner on death role then jailed ordinarily for life without parole. Assuming similar figures for this country, the average criminal sentenced to death would therefore cost around £775,000 more than someone who is in prison for fourteen years.

5th July, 2011

Gilligan tries to get clever

by Sunny at 1:30 am    

Oh check out Andrew Gilligan, he think he has one on me! Says on his latest blog-post:

Almost two years ago, incidentally, one progressive blogger alerted us to the way in which SREIslamic were extremists “putting on a moderate face” and “jumping on a polarising and emotive issue to build their own base and support.” That blogger was none other than Sunny Hundal – the very gentleman who last weekend was denouncing me for making exactly the same point, and cranking out desperate excuses for the East London Mosque.

Uh oh! Hypocrisy? Has Hundal been caught out secretly getting chummy with mad mullahs?

Poor Gilligan, if he only bothered to read what I wrote just a few days ago:

And to be clear: I’m not a fan of SRE Islamic at all. Neither am I of religious bigotry. But here is an example of Gilligan selectively targeting Muslims while saying nothing of Christian groups on the matter. I oppose religiously inspired bigotry – but a belief in civil liberties and free speech requires accepting that sometimes people will say things you don’t like.

Gilligan has of course ignored all the points I’ve made while hysterically accused everyone else of kowtowing to homophobia. But that is the way of the smear-mongers I guess.

It’s funny how people who claim to want more free speech lose their marbles when it comes to Muslims huh?

Update: Oh dear, oh dear. More of Andrew Gilligan’s shoddy journalism comes out in the wash.

27th June, 2011

Andrew Gilligan’s rubbish about the East London Mosque (again)

by Sunny at 4:37 pm    

Man, its a full-time job just fact-checking Andrew Gilligan and his smears.

He says today that East London Mosque has already broken its commitment to banning homophobic speakers from ELM.

This time, however, it has only taken just over a week for the mosque’s bad faith to emerge. The day after tomorrow, 29 June, it welcomes to its premises an organisation called Sex and Relationship Education Islamic (SRE Islamic), one of whose main purposes is to campaign for “the unacceptability of homosexuality which is often portrayed as a lifestyle choice.” That’s a quote from the first sentence of SRE Islamic’s statement of values.

SRE Islamic is run by members of Hizb ut Tahrir, a racist and extremist group which believes that Muslims should not mix with non-Muslims.

I have no love lost for HuT – but perhaps Gilligan should spend more time reading his own mates. The two people mentioned by Gilligan left HuT ages ago.

Second, while its true that SRE Islamic aren’t exactly fans of homosexuality – such is the position of Christian groups too. There is a difference between inviting a preacher who calls for the death of gays, and some intolerant people who say that most Islamic preachers say homosexuality is not acceptable within Islam (which is a fact).

The SRE Islamic event at ELM is jointly with the ‘Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child’ – a Christian group. I wonder why Andrew Gilligan did not include that fact? If Gilligan is going to be fair and balanced on this, I’d like him to campaign for Christian organisations who disapprove of homosexuality to be banned from Churches too.

And to be clear: I’m not a fan of SRE Islamic at all. Neither am I of religious bigotry. But here is an example of Gilligan selectively targeting Muslims while saying nothing of Christian groups on the matter. I oppose religiously inspired bigotry – but a belief in civil liberties and free speech requires accepting that sometimes people will say things you don’t like.

22nd June, 2011

Crowing over Brian Haw’s death

by Sunny at 10:30 am    

You may have heard that peace campaigner Brian Haw died last week. Haw wasn’t a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination. But he had good ideals, he was campaigning for peace and he stuck by his mission. I deeply respect him for that. LBC radio regularly called me for a comment on why Haw should have the right to occupy that space and I resolutely defended his right every time.

Far from showing any sympathy however, Harry’s Place regular contributor “Libby T” is crowing over his death, calling him “insane to the end”, a “nut”, “lunatic”, “mad” and a “political quack”. I’m sure the fact that Haw opposed a war in Iraq that bloggers at Harry’s Place keep defending (like a bunch of inbred disease-ridden rats) has nothing to do with it.

Gimpy, who blogged about Brian Haw’s condition is right when he says:

Mr Haw’s cancer was almost certainly incurable, but rather than spending his final days being cared for by medical professionals in the UK, he was sent to Germany by conspiracy theorists, offered the false prospect of a cure, and was subjected to unnecessary and ineffective treatments.

There is certain to be a resurgence of debate about Mr Haw’s principles, politics and behaviour as a result of his death, but probably little on the circumstances surrounding it. Regardless of what you may think of Mr Haw, perhaps the greatest injustice he has undergone in the last decade is not the disruption, court actions and parliamentary discussion surrounding his protest, all of which have been debated and ruled on by a transparent democratic and legal system, but the falsities told to him by supporters of alternative medicine in denial of the facts.

Homoeopathy is dangerous when it gives people false hope. Maybe Haw believed that it could help him where conventional medicine couldn’t. Desperate people do desperate things.

But all this is irrelevant to bloggers at Harry’s Place. What matters there is the willingness to use the death of a person to advance the convoluted argument that people who opposed the war were “mad”.

Fellow blogger Neil D defends the blog-post in the comments below by asking: “Are we to remain silent while Penny and Benn wax lyrical about him?“. No, clearly you’re meant to react by dancing on his grave. Just wow.

9th June, 2011

In support of the bill on Sharia Law courts

by Sunny at 10:15 am    

The United States has recently seen a whole raft of bills aimed at ‘stopping shariah law’, introduced by lawmakers in individual states that have hardly any Muslims. Most of the inititiatives are led by tinfoil-hat-wearing kooks who shouldn’t even be allowed near a microphone let alone introducing bills.

The Guardian today reports on an initiative here too:

Islamic courts would be forced to acknowledge the primacy of English law under a bill being introduced in the House of Lords.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill will introduce an offence carrying a five-year jail sentence for anyone falsely claiming or implying that sharia courts or councils have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law. The bill, which will apply to all arbitration tribunals if passed, aims to tackle discrimination, which its supporters say is inherent in the courts, by banning the sharia practice of giving woman’s testimony only half the weight of men’s.

This makes sense to me. I would go as far as saying these Shariah law and Beth Din (Jewish) courts should not even be allowed in this country (a reversal from an earlier position, I accept) because there is a grave chance that some people’s rights are abused.

For example, we recently reported the case of a top Sharia judge saying that husbands raping wives isn’t really rape. I don’t think those sorts of orthodox and misogynist views are rare.

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Khurshid Drabu objects:

Yet again, it appears to be a total misunderstanding of the concept that underpins these arbitration councils. Sharia councils operate under consent. If there is a woman who suffers as a result of a decision by one of these councils a woman is free to go to the British courts.

She is indeed, but that doesn’t mean she will always be free to do so. She might face a lot of pressure from locals not to do so.

In fact the above bill makes Sharia courts more likely to become entrenched because it removes the key objection that the courts are seen as above English law. I would rather they did not become entrenched. Nevertheless, if they are to stay then this should be a minimum requirement.

7th June, 2011

Reducing demand for abortion

by Rumbold at 12:59 pm    

Yesterday, a meeting was held to oppose Nadine Dorries’ agenda, which includes female-only abstinence classes and further restrictions on abortion. Campaigners also wanted to further liberalise abortion services in Britain, particularly in Northern Ireland. A number of interesting points emerged from the debates (I didn’t attend), but what it is notable is that debate on abortion tends to focus almost exclusively on the supply side; at what point can a woman have an abortion, what she needs to go through to get it, and so forth. This is understandable, but it does polarise the debate, since on one side you have people who believe you are killing a human being and on the other people who feel you are interfering with a woman’s right to choose.

These positions are unlikely to change, but there is a way to please both sides, and that is reducing demand for abortion. To do this you first have to work out why women have abortions. Though there can be a number of reasons, two of the most common are not using contraception and women being pressured into sex. Therefore the way to deal with this, as Cath Elliot pointed out a while ago, is to increase contraceptive use amongst men and help women escape domestically violent situations. Thus you have less unwanted pregnancies and so less demand for abortions.

Who could object to this? Campaigners for liberalising access to abortion don’t actually enjoying the thought of abortions, so a reduction in demand wouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, as well as rescuing more women from abusive relationships. For those who genuinely think it murder, they should also support a plan that would see a reduction in the number of abortions. The only people who would object are the misogynists, who see abortion as a way to control women, and view sex education and promoting contraceptive use amongst men as immoral, but they wouldn’t be able to hide behind the excuse of protecting the unborn anymore.

6th June, 2011

Combating and monitoring extremism

by Rumbold at 3:07 pm    

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has criticised universities for not doing enough to tackle extremism on campus. The comments come ahead of the release of the updated Prevent (terrorism) strategy:

“I think for too long there’s been complacency around universities,” she said. “I don’t think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place. I think there is more that universities can do.” Mrs May said universities had to “send very clear messages” and “ask themselves some questions about what happens on their campuses”.

She also criticised the Federation of Student Islamic Societies for not challenging extremism sufficiently. “They need to be prepared to stand up and say that organisations that are extreme or support extremism or have extremist speakers should not be part of their grouping,” Mrs May said.

Universities should (and often do) make clear what is acceptable, and societies breaching these rules should have their funding withdrawn and barred from using campus facilities. But beyond this, there are limits to what they can do. There are dozens of societies on campus, and universities cannot be expected to vet all their speakers and events. Nor can they ban societies unless they get proof about what they are up to, which can be difficult. Universities should stop societies using campus facilities from hosting extremists if they are warned in advance (with proof provided), but they lack the resources to do much more.

Some of the Prevent proposals do seem more well thought out however; the government is going to withdraw funding from a number of groups, on the basis that although they do not support terrorism, they are not moderate. This is right, as it moves away from the narrow ideal that the world can be divided between those who support terrorism and those who don’t.

The greater focus on white far-right terrorism is welcome too, as there have been a number of far-right terrorists convicted. It also helps dispel the myth that Muslims are the only ones capable of supporting and carrying out terrorist attacks, which encourages people to ‘other’ Muslims by viewing them as uniquely dangerous.

31st May, 2011

Moscow gay pride protest marchers attacked

by Rumbold at 10:17 am    

Peter Tatchell, who went to Moscow to protest against the government’s decision to ban the gay pride march, reports on the violence directed against him and others by both neo-Nazis and the police. A number of observers pointed out the collusion between the neo-Nazis and the police:

I went to City Hall to protest but was separated from our Moscow Gay Pride group. Neo-Nazis identified me for attack. Being alone and with the police refusing to protect us, I had to escape down alleyways to avoid a beating. I was not arrested.

By banning Moscow Gay Pride, Russia has defied a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it must be allowed to proceed. Some of us now plan to press the Council of Europe to suspend Russia’s right to vote in the Council’s parliamentary assembly. Russia must not be permitted to defy the European Court with impunity.

The two non-white protestors at the march were both arrested and put in solitary confinement, before eventually being released. Russia has long seem homophobic attacks and official harassment of LGBT activists and individuals.

29th April, 2011

Why the different approach by the police?

by Sunny at 12:18 pm    

As I reported on Libcon earlier, the police raised or arrested several activists who were planning peaceful protests today for the Royal Wedding. These weren’t massive events either – maybe about 5 people big. The squats weren’t even planning anything.

But to summarise, some people who were planning not to tow the official line on the Royal wedding got pre-emptively arrested despite not even planning any crime.

Now compare that to the hands-off reception that Muslims Against Crusades get. When they planned a protest, they were refused by the police, but allowed to have the protest elsewhere. At the last minute, MAC cancelled all their stunts – but faced zero police harassment. Zero.

Now I’m not saying they should necessarily face harassment for planning a peaceful, protest. I’m just asking why the police consistently treat Anjem Chouhary and his boys with kid gloves while harassing and intimidating peaceful anti-capitalist or environmental protesters?

Filed under: Civil liberties
25th April, 2011

What do the Guantanamo Files tell us?

by Sunny at 1:51 pm    

This is just a summary:

» 172 prisoners are still held there.
Previous inmates included an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.

One man was transferred to the facility simply because he was a mullah and could have had “special knowledge of the Taliban”. He was released after a year. Another was shipped there because he knew the areas of Khowst and Kabul since he was a taxi driver”.

An al-Jazeera journalist was held six years so he could be interrogated about the Arabic news network.

» US authorities listed the main Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI as a terrorist organisation alongside groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence [there is going to be a massive fallout from this]

» A number of British nationals and residents were held for years even though US authorities knew they were not Taliban or al-Qaida members. [goodbye Habeas Corpus!]

» Why Obama has found it difficult to close down Gitmo:

The range of those still held captive includes detainees who have been admittedly tortured so badly they can never be successfully tried, informers who must be protected from reprisals, and a group of Chinese Muslims from the Uighur minority who have nowhere to go.

A trial of these prisoners and an expose of their conditions, the US army and Pentagon no doubt pointed out, would severely damage the credibility of the US govt itself.

» How the leaks came about.
The NYT approached NPR and the Guardian with files leaked to them. But WikiLeaks was already working with the Telegraph, Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel, according to HuffPo. The latter group have now been forced to bring forward publication date.

» While the Guardian has led with how badly the prisoners were treated, the Telegraph focuses on what al-Qaeda were planning.

* A senior Al-Qaeda commander claimed that the terrorist group has hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will be detonated if Bin-Laden is ever caught or assassinated. The US authorities uncovered numerous attempts by Al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear materials and fear that terrorists have already bought uranium. Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that Al-Qaeda would unleash a “nuclear hellstorm”.

* The 20th 9/11 hijacker, who did not ultimately travel to America and take part in the atrocity, has revealed that Al-Qaeda was seeking to recruit ground-staff at Heathrow amid several plots targeting the world’s busiest airport. Terrorists also plotted major chemical and biological attacks against this country.

The Washington Post takes a similar angle.

» Glenn Greenwald says:

WikiLeaks is responsible for more newsworthy scoops over the last year than all media outlets combined: it’s not even a close call. And if Bradley Manning is the leaker, he has done more than any other human being in our lifetime to bring about transparency and shine a light on what military and government power is doing.

That is also spot on.

10th April, 2011

BNP election candidate arrested for alleged Qur’an burning

by Rumbold at 5:21 pm    

Sion Owens, a BNP candidate in Wales, has been arrested and charged under the Public Order Act and remains in custody. Another BNP candidate has been arrested but was bailed:

On Friday, police were given a video which appeared to show Mr Owens dousing a copy of the Koran with a highly flammable fluid, before setting it alight and watching it burn. Later that day he and another of the party’s candidates for the assembly election, Swansea East candidate Joanne Shannon, were arrested.

Mr Owens was charged on Saturday night. He is in custody in Swansea, and due to appear in court on Monday. Ms Shannon has been bailed pending further inquiries.

Sion Owens, who has links to alleged Nazis, was arrested after an Observer investigation tracked down the perpetrators of a Qur’an-burning video and handed the evidence to the police:

The footage of the burning in Britain clearly identifies Owens, who is wearing a “Whitelaw No Surrender” T-shirt. The film starts with the Qur’an lying in a Quality Street tin before Owens begins dousing the holy book in flammable liquid and then setting fire to it. The camera zooms in as the Qur’an burns.

It is clear that Sion Owens is a racist yob, who belongs to a party with links to terrorists such as the Klu Klux Klan. Book burning is also abhorrent, and this was clearly an attempt to provoke an extreme reaction. Yet it is worrying that book burning can get someone arrested. In some scenarios it is understandable; for instance, if Mr. Owens did it in a crowded mosque, as this could potentially provoke a riot or stampede (the old ‘don’t shout fire in a crowded building’). But this wasn’t the case. The fact that this could cause violent demonstrations once it was exposed doesn’t justify arresting someone, any more than burning a copy of My Side by David Beckham would if there was an outrage.

3rd March, 2011

Death of Shahbaz Bhatti

by Rumbold at 11:10 am    

Earlier in the week Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian member of the Pakistani government, was murdered because of his support for a Christian woman facing execution and for his desire to reform the blasphemy law. He became the second high profile politician to be killed following the murder of Salman Taseer earlier in the year. As Pakistani blogger Raza Rumi put it at Pak Tea House:

It is time for Pakistan’s political parties to take stock of this situation and get their own ideological house in order before they are wiped out as well. Pakistani state organs have been appeasing the Right and Islamofasicsts for too long. It is time to stand up. If they think they can be safe then they ARE WRONG.

PTH condemns this murder and recalls that Pakistan was not created for this violence and bigotry that is now our halmark and has made us a joke in the international community. Taseer’s murderers have to be booked, Benazir Bhutto’s murderers have to be brought to book and Bhatti’s murder should not go to waste. Wake up Pakistan and our appeal to Pakistanis: stand up for your rights for living in a secure, tolerant society.

Liberals and secularists are becoming an endangered species in Pakistan.

19th February, 2011

Report into tackling radical speakers at universities

by Rumbold at 11:48 am    

Universities UK, an umbrella body for British universities, has released a report (full PDF here) examining what can and should be done about extremist/radical speakers who are invited to speak by university societies. The report recommends a number of actions:

* Review current protocols/policies on speaker meetings. The report highlights examples of checklist-forms being used when dealing with speaker invitations.

* Identify an appropriate senior person to lead on issues of campus security.

* Ensure that all involved in making decisions in relation to campus security, academic freedom, free speech and equality rights are familiar with the legal requirements operating in this area.

* Work with the students’ union to provide clear information to students and student societies about the rights and responsibilities of the institution, the students’ union, student societies and students in relation to academic freedom, free speech and equality rights.

* Develop and maintain a mechanism for regular dialogue with relevant external organisations such as the police, local authorities and community groups.

The report has already drawn criticism from some quarters, who feel that it does not do enough to prevent societies from inviting hate speakers. In many ways, this is understandable. The checklist system seems simplistic (“have you ever compared Jews to cockroaches?” and so on), and given the sort of unpleasant individuals who have been invited to speak at universities in the past, it is clear why it is a good idea not to invite people like that in the future. Since universities fund societies and provide facilities fro them, it is right they should have a say in the matter. A Muslim campaigner who challenges extremist speakers argues that the report fails to address the difficulty in challenging such speakers:

“I totally agree that freedom of speech includes freedom of speech for awful people, but in Birmingham no institution exists to address these people. If the Islamic society hosts an extremist preacher, all the effort to make people understand what’s going on comes from outside the university. When there’s a radical speaker, usually the Jewish society flags it up if it happens to be anti-semitic.”

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16th February, 2011

BBC Documentary Explores Anti-Gay Attitudes in Uganda

by guest at 3:34 pm    

This is a crosspost by Richard Bartholomew

On Monday evening BBC 3 broadcast The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay?, a documentary about Uganda presented by gay DJ Scott Mills. There are few surprises: gay people are forced to live in slums, rejected by their families and at risk of violence, while a sampling of random interviewees from the street shows a visceral hatred for homosexuals and a wish for their execution (“everything bad should be done to those people”, says one young woman).

Mills also spoke to some of the individuals who are actively promoting anti-gay feeling: Giles Muhame, managing editor of Rolling Stone newspaper; Pastor Solomon Male; and David Bahati MP, author of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill (a bill not unfairly dubbed by critics as the “Kill the Gays Bill”). Muhume is notorious for “outing” homosexuals in his newspaper (although a court injunction recently put a stop to this), and he explained that his paper had got information through having “infiltrated their circles” and by talking to “ex-homosexuals”. Muhame also claimed that stories of attacks on gay people were lies, and (rather unconvincingly) that if his own picture had appeared in the paper he wouldn’t be scared. He added:

We are not policing but we are assisting the police to do their work.

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13th February, 2011

Same sex church marriages approved

by Rumbold at 9:58 am    

Couples may now be able to hold same sex ceremonies in religious buildings:

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is to propose lifting the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious settings in England and Wales…

There are no plans to compel religious organisations to hold ceremonies and the Church of England has said it would not allow its churches to be used…

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that homosexuality is a “deviation” and is not expected to agree to same-sex ceremonies.

The legislation would also cover synagogues and mosques although homosexual relationships are forbidden under Islam and Orthodox Judaism.

This seems a good thing. People will be able to have same sex marriages in religious buildings, but those religious buildings will not be forced to hold same sex ceremonies. I would like to see this idea pushed further, so that any adult can have a civil partnership with one other person (between two elderly sisters for example), as Peter Tatchell has long advocated, which confers certain rights on each individual. Marriage would then be a purely private affair, conferring no legal rights.

Update: BBC post quote updated as the original source material changed.

11th February, 2011

Votes for prisoners

by Rumbold at 10:04 am    

A backbench ‘revolt’ (encouraged by some ministers) has seen the Commons vote down plans to give prisoners the vote. This is in contrast to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which argued that the ban was against the European Convention on Human Rights. The government now has until August to put forward proposals to enfranchise some, or all, prisoners, or face heavy fines.

Politicians who support votes for prisoners don’t tend to win widespread public acclaim for their stance. The majority of the public don’t think people who go to prison should be able to vote. In many ways, this is understandable. If an individual commits a crime serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence, then why should they continue to enjoy the right to influence the democratic process? Nor has the campaign hasn’t been helped by its unpleasant leader, John Hirst, a cold-blooded killer who recently branded one of his critics an ‘ugly Paki’ for disagreeing with him, noting that “unlike the foreign import Patel, I am a Brit born and bred.”

Yet there are also arguments for giving prisoners the vote too. Most European countries tend to do so, or else have a tiered system, where prisoners who have committed certain offences are able to vote. Just because someone goes to prison and is deprived of the liberty, it doesn’t mean we strip them of all their other rights (for example, the right not to be tortured). It has been argued as well that disenfranchising prisoners make it harder for them to reintegrate into society, as they have less connection with everyday life. Nor does having an odious spokesman doesn’t make a cause less just.

Fundamentally though, it is unclear how much practical impact such a change would have. If 80,000 prisoners were eligible to vote in 600 constituencies, and 50% of them exercised their right to vote, then each constituency would see between 60-70 votes from prisoners. This might be able to tip the balance in a very tight constituency, but politicians could hardly lobby prisoners for votes, as the backlash from other voters would be massive. Nor would all prisoners vote for one party. So the question then becomes a philosophical one: whether or not we as a society think it is right that people sent to prison should be able to vote?

6th February, 2011

Man With Low IQ Banned From Having Sex

by guest at 1:05 pm    

This is a guest post by Sarah. She blogs here.

This is one of the strangest cases I’ve heard of since I started blogging. It seems to be not so much surprise that a disabled person knows what sex is, but a feeling that he doesn’t understand what sex means.

A 41 year old man, known only as Alan, has been banned from having sex because he has an IQ of 48 and a ‘moderate’ learning disability. Alan started a romantic relationship with another man, Kieron, who he met while living in a home provided by his local council. However, in June 2009, Alan’s local town hall decided that he lacked the mental capacity to have contact with Kieron, and began court proceedings to restrict their contact with each other. Since then, Alan has been closely supervised to prevent him from carrying out any further sexual activity, except when he is alone in his bedroom.

This is the latest case to be brought before the Court of Protection, which has the power, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, to make life or death decisions for people who lack the intelligence to make them for themselves. Usually, this court can force people to have abortions or life saving surgery, use contraception or switch off life support machines.

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4th February, 2011

Corrupt EU police forces could be handed Britons’ personal data

by Rumbold at 12:18 pm    

Air travellers will be more likely to be hit by fraud after the British government lent their support to a proposal that would allow any police officer, even in mafia-infiltrated states like Bulgaria, to access a passenger’s credit card details and their address:

Telephone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, email and other details of British air travellers will be available on demand for all of the EU’s police forces, including countries such as Bulgaria and Romania where corruption among law enforcement officials is widespread. The system, billed on Wednesday as an anti-terrorism measure, will track all travellers and will also allow any EU police officer access to the data on suspicion of a serious crime, including offences that are not a crime in Britain. Civil liberties campaigners fear the new EU surveillance system will make Britons more vulnerable to miscarriages of justice amid growing concern over EU policing measures and the lack of safeguards or judicial standards in some European countries.

Even Europhiles should be worried about significantly more individuals having access to personal data, especially relating to credit cards and identity. The transfer of powers to the EU has continued in much the same way as under Labour, which is not overly surprising.

27th January, 2011

Control orders watered down but remain

by Rumbold at 9:27 am    

The Home Secretary has announced some reforms of the control order system and detention without trial:

“Control orders mark II” will end the powers of the home secretary to order the virtual house arrest of terror suspects and to force their relocation. Each individual order will be limited to a maximum of two years.

The current regime will remain in force until December when it will be replaced by escalating measures including an undefined overnight residence requirement backed by electronic tagging and restrictions on travel, but also allowing greater access to the internet, phones and personal meetings. The government will have to specify in legislation, in greater detail than at present, the measures that can be used.

Some of this is good news. Control orders and lengthy detention without trial are unpleasant features of our justice system. They go against the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and are not easily defensible. Any scaling back of them is therefore welcome form a civil liberties point of view. If people have to be held in this way for security reasons, then they should have as many rights as possible, since there isn’t enough evidence to bring them to trial, or the evidence cannot be heard in court. From a security angle too, it makes sense, as they will be able to monitor suspects’ communications. I would like to see more use made of deportation if possible.

Plans to roll back other powers which have been misused are welcome too:

• Section 44 stop and search powers: existing powers to be replaced with a much more tightly drawn power to stop and search without suspicion.

• Photographers: changes to be made to guidance on section 58a so it no longer prevents photographing police officers or security guards.

• Surveillance: the use of surveillance operations by local authorities under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to be restricted to cases where the offence carries a prison sentence of at least six months. Investigations into underage alcohol and tobacco sales to be exempted.

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25th January, 2011

US government’s case against WikiLeaks falls apart

by Sunny at 9:01 am    

MSNBC reported last night:

U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.

This is big news, because it fundamentally undermines the US government’s case that this was a case of espionage, the charge they planned to make against Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, the US govt is still illegally detaining Bradley Manning without allowing him visitors properly. Amnesty International have now written a letter to the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates about his treatment.

Given this is a post on WikiLeaks, its also worthwhile reading this post at the New Yorker on how Al-Jazeera may have joined the ‘arms race’ by media organisations to become more like WikiLeaks and start soliciting confidential documents via untraceable electronic networks.

Naturally, I’m all for it. Unlike my fellow blogger Rumbold, I think the Guardian and Al-Jaz were completely right to publish the Palestinian Papers. Not only did they explode the Israeli narrative that the country had ‘no partner in peace’ to negotiate with, they also showed how one-sided the negotiations were. I’m afraid that’s not justice and the Palestinians deserve much more. If the fragile peace in Israel falls apart now, it will be their fault and no one else’s.

Coming back to WikiLeaks and Al-Jazeera, the New Yorker blog says:

If the WikiLeaks model were to grow beyond WikiLeaks—much in the way social networking outgrew its earliest online incarnations—and develop more fully within the ambit of conventional media, it is likely that it would change in a way that reflects the different sources of authority that a stateless publisher and a conventional news organization each draw upon. Some aspects of Assange’s initial vision might get lost. Others, such as the site’s ability to publish things that no one confined to single jurisdiction can publish, might become more valuable.

Sounds like a good thing to me.

Filed under: Civil liberties,Media
17th January, 2011

Daily Mail thinks criminals should reoffend or claim benefits

by Rumbold at 9:31 am    

The above headline is the conclusion I drew from the Daily Mail’s piece on a Travelodge in York which employs three murderers. The Daily Mail has revealed that the Travelodge knowingly employees these women, who have been released from prison. The whole tone of the piece is very negative and critical of the decision. The result of this piece makes it more likely that these women will be fired, as Travelodge will want to avoid the adverse publicity and possible boycotts and protests.

The trio applied for the jobs at the hotel branch in Piccadilly, York, while serving sentences at Askham Grange Prison as part of a scheme to get offenders into jobs soon after they are released.

Apart from executing them all, it is unclear what the Daily Mail would have done differently with these women. I have no idea whether they were guilty or not, or whether their sentences were appropriate. But in the eyes of the law they were deemed fit to be released from prison. Upon release from prison they had three main choices: to commit more crimes, to claim benefits or to find work. I would have thought that the last option would have been the most attractive for the general public, as it means that no more crimes would be committed by this individual and they wouldn’t be living off taxpayers. A job would also help them to reintegrate into society. If people don’t want reintegration, then logically no criminal should ever be released, whatever their crime. The Travelodge’s spokesman’s response was admirable (as is their whole programme with the prison), but I wonder how long it will last:

‘The workers from the rehabilitation programme are constantly assessed and have proven to be dedicated and hard-working individuals.’

4th January, 2011

Trial by media

by Rumbold at 11:36 am    

Anton Vowl at the Enemies of Reason has an excellent post on the media’s treatment of Chris Jefferies, who has been questioned by the police in connection with the death of Joanna Yeates. He points out the allegations and insinuations that have been hurled at Mr. Jefferies even though Mr. Jefferies had not been charged with anything:

His photograph has appeared on the front page of national newspapers 11 times. He was described as “weird”, “lewd”, “strange”, “creepy”, “angry”, “odd”, “disturbing”, “eccentric”, “a loner” and “unusual” in the course of just one article. That the former English teacher should have liked the classic Oscar Wilde poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol was described by one article as “Chris Jefferies’ favourite poem was about killing wife”. That the teacher should have taught pupils about the horror of the Holocaust and a classic novel by Wilkie Collins was described as him being “obsessed with death”. He was accused of being a ‘peeping tom’ by people who never made a complaint to police about his activities. One front-page headline asked of the landlord “Could this man hold the key to Joanna’s death?” and the next day asked “Was Jo’s body hidden next to her flat?” next to a picture of him.

Should people accused of major crimes have their identities protected? On balance yes, and it certainly should be the case for anyone who has not even been charged and brought to trial yet. There can be advantages to publicising potential suspects: other people may come forward with information which could lead to the police catching the perpetrator. But set against this is the damage done to innocent people (and everyone is innocent until proven guilty). For the time being Mr Jefferies’ life is over, thanks to a rabid media. I don’t know if Mr. Jefferies was involved at all in Ms. Yeates’ death, but nor does the media. That is for the courts to decide.

Filed under: Civil liberties,Media
18th December, 2010

Saving the planet through women’s rights

by Rumbold at 11:09 am    

The debate surrounding Earth’s resources and population growth can often be quite fraught. Some people argue that an ever-growing world population will strain world resources even more, worsening climate change in the process. Others criticise this vision as an attack on the poor (who use less resources per head than the rich) and women who have plenty of children, which suggests some sort of mass planning where permission to breed is required from the state.

In theory, the calculation is a simple one. If technological advances and energy conservation can keep pace with population growth, then the situation is unlikely to get any worse. But whether this will work in practice is impossible to say. That is why it is useful to approach the issue from other angles, just as Kate Smurthwaite has done. Ms. Smurthwaite believes that reducing population growth is a good thing, but doesn’t see the need for state planning and control:

There are millions of women around the world and right here at home who desperately want to have less or no children, to have children later in life and to control their own fertility. Furthermore some of us crazy feminist types actually think it is their right to do so and to be given access to the tools and education to enable them to make those choices in their own lives. We call them reproductive rights.

Free access to and information about contraception – including condoms which also prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs – and abortion are basic rights that every woman should have. All we have to do is provide them.

More education and rights for women is a good thing in itself, and if it helps combat climate change then even better.

9th December, 2010

Pregnant woman’s assailant jailed after appeal

by Rumbold at 1:48 pm    

It was good to see that a man who repeatedly kicked his girlfriend in the head has been jailed for four years by the Court of Appeal, which overturned his original suspended sentence:

[Matthias] Dawson was given a 12-month suspended sentence in August after admitting GBH with intent at Inner London Crown Court. The appeal against the sentence was brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC – the first time he has taken such action since taking office in May.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, is right to be looking at reducing the number of people in prison. It is unclear how locking up large numbers of non-violent offenders (especially drug users) benefits society as a whole (though there are some non-violent crimes which deserve such sentences), especially given the high re-offending rates. For crimes such as violent assault though, prison should always be the outcome, as such people need to be locked up to protect others from them. It is unclear what the point of a suspended sentence is in this case. Nor was this an isolated incident. Three teenagers tortured an autistic boy for days and received only community orders and suspended sentences in October:

The gang used a mobile phone to film themselves carrying out depraved assaults on their 17-year-old victim. During a sickening spree of violence the three thugs kicked and stamped on his head, repeatedly punched him in the chest, beat him with a tennis racket and then threw him down a steep embankment.

The terrified teenager – who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism – was also pelted with dog mess, had his limbs scratched with sandpaper and was forced to drink vodka and gin until he passed out.

Mobile phone footage showed the yobs laughing and joking as they made him endure other abuse and, in a final humiliating assault, they applied adhesive tape to his genital area before ripping the tape off.

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