More on the scandal of Amnesty International....
I lost confidence in Amnesty years ago....
Amnesty International has made its name as a champion of free speech, campaigning on behalf of prisoners who have spoken out against oppressive regimes around the world. But when it comes to speaking up about the organisation itself ... well, that seems to be a different story.
Last week Gita Sahgal, a highly respected lifelong human rights activist and head of Amnesty’s gender unit, told The Sunday Times of her concerns about Amnesty’s relationship with Cageprisoners, an organisation headed by Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo internee.
Since his release in 2005, Begg has spoken alongside Amnesty at a number of events and accompanied the organisation to a meeting at Downing Street last month. Sahgal felt the closeness of the relationship between Amnesty and Cageprisoners — which appears to give succour to those who believe in global jihad — was a threat to Amnesty’s integrity. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment,” she wrote to Amnesty’s leaders following the Downing Street visit.
Feeling her concerns were not being addressed, she decided to go public. Hours after our story appeared she was suspended. Sahgal’s phone started ringing off the hook with news organisations seeking interviews. The story also lit up the blogosphere, partly because of Amnesty’s importance — it has some 2.8m members and a raft of glamorous supporters — but also because what Sahgal was talking about touched that raw nerve, the naivety of white middle-class liberals in dealing with Islamic radicals.
To say the past week has been a difficult one for Sahgal would be an understatement. She fears for her own and her family’s safety. She has — temporarily at least — lost her job and found it almost impossible to find anyone to represent her in any potential employment case. She rang round the human rights lawyers she knows, all of whom have declined to help citing a conflict of interest. “Although it is said that we must defend everybody no matter what they’ve done, it appears that if you’re a secular, atheist, Asian British woman, you don’t deserve a defence from our civil right firms,” she says wryly.
So no one in the human rights world wants to cross swords with Amnesty: that’s no surprise and least of all to Sahgal. “I know the nature of what I’m up against,” she says. “I didn’t do what I did lightly.”