Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberty’

Sakharov Prize 2011

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th December, 2011

Next week, at a formal session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be awarded to five representatives of the Arab Spring movement: posthumously to the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation partly triggered the whole new Arab Awakening; Asmaa Mafouz (Egypt), Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi (Libya), Razan Zeitouneh and Ali Farzat (both Syria). The Prize is named after the Soviet physicist and political dissdent Andrei Sakharov and has been awarded annually by the European Parliament since 1988 to individuals or organizations who have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy. Last year’s laureate was Guillermo Farinas from Cuba, whose government refused to allow him to travel to France to collect it. Here in London, the European Parliament representation hosted an event at Europe House on Thursday, to mark the prize, though the subject was not the Arab Spring but rather the broad issue of human rights, and in particular attempts in Britain to get rid of the Human Rights Act and thereby disassociate ourselves from some of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, which is a product of the Council or Europe, not the European Union, of course). The Conservative MP Robert Buckland and Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, from slightly different perspectives, argued how they thought Britain would be better off with its own legislative provisions, but Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, fiercely defended the Council of Europe and the ECHR, and from the rumblings in the audience, including from some pro-Euro Tories, the majority were on her side. Incidentally, had we known what David Cameron was going to do at the EU Summit in Brussels subsequently, I suspect the rumbings would have been more like howls of outrage.

Link: www.sakharovprize.europa.eu

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Shami Chakrabarti and Toffs in Wigs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th June, 2009

Shami Chakrabati‘Unelected toffs in wigs, be they in the Courts or in the House of Lords, have been the defenders of civil liberties in many cases, during the current government,’ according to the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, who was the guest speaker at a lunch given today by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists at the London office of the European Parliament. Because of the so-called War on Terror,  disturbing new powers have been granted to both the government and the police. For example, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act relating to stop and search requires no necessary grounds for suspicion at all. Tony Blair famously said that he would give the police whatever powers they needed. Shami opined that an ‘authoritarain arms race’ began in Britain when Michael Howard and Tony Blair became responsible for the Home Affairs brief in their respective parties — well before 9/11.

Liberty ID card bookletLiberty is currently celebrating 75 years of existence, having previously been known as the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), in which, interestingly, several now prominent New Labour figures were previously involved. It’s always a spectacle to see them squirm when they try to defend the proposed introduction of ID cards in Britain, about which Liberty has been running a campaign. Shami Chakrabarti — who was a barister before working for six years for the Home Office — has no such ambitions to be sucked into politics with all its compromises. ‘I’d sooner be a rock-star before I’d be Home Secretary,’ she declared. She paid tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done in defending human rights (though she opposes the European arrest warrant, which the party has championed) and she sharply criticised Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, suspecting that their main objection to this important buttress to civil liberties is its essentially European origin.

Link: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Why Jeff Halper Makes Israel Nervous

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th August, 2008

 In a welcome softening of its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip’s waters, Israel earlier this week allowed through from Cyprus the two ships Free Gaza and Liberty, which were bringing in humanitarian relief to the stricken territory, as well as 44 peace activists from 17 countries (including Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth). The plan is that the ships will also transport out of Gaza some of the Palestinian Fulbright scholars who were granted scholarships by the United States, but were then prevented by the Israelis from travelling overland out of the strip. However, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — who has high hopes of becoming Prime Minister following the expected departure of Ehud Olmert — told the conservative mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot that this was a ‘one-off’ case and warned that other craft should not attempt to break the naval blockade.

Unfortunately, the good publicity Ms Livni could have expected from this move was undermined by the fact that the one Israeli Jew on board the two ships, the US-born professor of anthropology and key figure in the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jeff Halper, was later arrested when he attempted to cross the land border between Gaza and Israel. Under current Israeli law it is an offence for an Israeili citizen to be in Gaza (though as Jeff Halper is also a US citizen, that legal argument is a little nuanced). Anyway, he was arraigned to appear in court in Ashkelon yesterday. A cynic might observe that it is a pity it is not also an offence under Israeli law for Israeli citizens to be in the occupied West Bank, as about half a million of them have taken up residence in settlements there, in controvention of international law.

Assuming Jeff Halper — who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 — does not have to spend much time in custody, he will be coming to the United Kingdom next month, and he will be one of the keynote speakers at the Liberal International British Group’s fringe meeting on ‘Middle East: Is a Two-state Solution Still Viable?’ at the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth, on 16 September.

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Why Should the US Know All about Us?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th August, 2008

It won’t only be the ‘usual suspects’ such as the civil liberties group Liberty who will likely baulk at new proposals outlined in today’s ‘Guardian’, based on a confidential report from the Future Group of interior and justice ministers from six EU members states: the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. While some of the measures suggested — such as improving crisis management at the European level and developing common European immigration policies — make a lot of sense, the one thing that really sticks in my craw is the notion that the EU should enter into a ‘Euro-Atlantic area of freedom, security and justice’ with the United States. That would mean national and Europe-wide security bodies handing over vast amounts of data on European citizens to the Americans.

All this, of course, is in the name of the War against Terror. But already we are seeing that pretext being used to infringe civil liberties and privacy in this country, let alone internationally. Why should the US government or the CIA or the FBI know everything about me or you, without our permission? I accept that there is room for enhanced security cooperation with Washington, but not to the degree that is being mooted. It is a fallacy to imagine that the United States and Europe have identical values and goals. Think Guantanamo Bay. Think water-boarding. Think the US refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court. Some people might hope that all of these contentious things will change after George W Bush leaves power, but don’t bank on it.

European citizens need to learn to say ‘no’ more often. If the Labour government gets its way, we’ll have ID cards in this country and a massive data bank, which would theoretically be available to all sorts of government agencies. Do we really want it all to be available to Washington too? I certainly don’t. And I would say the same in the unlikely event that such a proposal was made vis-a-vis Russia or China as well!

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