Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Sakharov Prize’

Shout out for Raif Badawi

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th December, 2015

imageYesterday, at the European Parliament, the wife of Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar,  collected the Sakharov Prize on his behalf. An empty chair had a prominent place in the proceedings, as Badawi himself is still in prison for the “crime” of expressing his view that Saudi Arabia should become more democratic, and allegedly insulting Islam. His sentence was 10 years and 1,000 lashes, the latter to be administered in batches of 50 every Friday, though after the first dose of this medieval punishment he has been considered too unfit to receive it. But he has now been in jail for more than 1,300 days. The agony of not knowing each week whether he will be flogged or not is a form of torture no country should impose upon anyone. The new Canadian Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has called for Badawi to be pardoned and to be allowed to join his wife and three small children in Canada, where they have wisely sought safe haven. Although Saudi’s major trading partners (and arms suppliers), the United States and Britain, have put some sotto voce diplomatic pressure on Riyadh regarding the case, this has had no effect. Something stronger is needed, in the form of sanctions. Although there is the occasional glimmer of positive developments in the Desert Kingdom, such as the recent election of women municipal councillors in the first election in which women have been allowed to vote, there is much about the country’s legal system that is barbaric — including the high number of executions — and unfit for the 21st century. The West was not shy about condemning the faults of Communist states when Communism held sway in the Soviet Union and central and Eastern Europe, and it should not flinch from turning that critical eye on Saudi Arabia now.

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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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Salford, Give Aung San Suu Kyi Her Freedom!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th September, 2008

  I spent the first 17 years of my life in Salford (though I was born in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, on the Protestant side of the River Irwell). I remember the council knocking down the magnificent Victorian mansions of ‘Millionaires Row’ and the tram lines being ripped up. The city’s only claim to fame at the time was ‘Coronation Street’; as a schoolboy in short trousers, I got a hair-netted Violet Carson’s autograph when I visited the Granada filming lot. These days, of course, it has all gone terribly up-market, what with the Lowry Museum and the BBC.

Now, thanks to Unison, the trade union, a new spotlight has fallen on Salford, as the debate rages as to whether the Freedom of the City should be given to the Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi — who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for yonks — or the Manchester United left-winger and occasional forward, Ryan Giggs. Well, I was almost brought up with a red scraf round my neck, but I hope Ryan Giggs is enough of a gentleman to recognise that Suu Kyi deserves it more than he does. Some people will complain that she has no real link to Salford, but then neither did Nelson Mandela, who was previously made a Freeman.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received numerous awards for her brave and dignifed struggle in opposition to Burma’s hideous junta. These include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize and Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom (which I was pleased to see acknowledged in today’s ‘Guardian’). But as a Salford lad, albeit now a London immigrant, I would be thrilled if the city gave her its plaudits as well. I’ll even be writing to the MP for my own home seat (Eccles) about it, none other than Labour’s Red Squirrel, Hazel Blears.

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Leyla Zana at SOAS

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd May, 2008

 The Turkish-Kurdish activist and former MP, Leyla Zana, received a heroine’s welcome at the Khalili Lecture Theatre at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) this evening, in recognition of her brave struggle for Kurdish cutural and political rights. In 1991, she was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish parliament, but created uproar by uttering one single sentence in Kurdish at the end of her swearing the oath of alleigance to the Turkish Republic. Speaking Kurdish in a public place was still against the law; for nearly 70 years, the language had been officially banned in private as well. As Leyla said tonight, ‘the biggest genocide is linguistic genocide’. If you take away a people’s language, you destroy its culture and its soul.

Chilling footage was shown at the event of the reaction of almost the entire Turkish membership of the parliament on that infamous day in 1991, banging their desks in anger, shouting at her, some even accusing her of treason — for which she was indeed tried and found guilty, three years later, being sentenced to 15 years in prison. Her case was taken up not only by NGOs such as Amnesty International, but also by leading politicians worldwide, and the European Parliament, which awarded her the Sakharov Prize in 1995, in absentia — it would be another nine years before the Court of Appeal released her on a legal technicality.

Turkey aspires to join the EU and indeed, most Kurds in Turkey support this development, as they believe Turkey within the EU would be forced to improve both its human rights record and an acknowledgement of the country’s true multi-cultural nature, with the associated recognition of the position of minorities. But Turkey still has a long way to go before it will fulfil the so-called Copenhagen criteria for EU membership on such issues. Once again, Leyla Zana faces legal charges, relating to her alleged sympathy for armed Kurdish separatists, for which her possible jail sentence could be — wait for it — 60 years.

 

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