Food Banks and Poverty, Poverty and Food Banks

November 14, 2014 in Blog, information, main by Rob Hallam

Difficulties often come hand-in-hand, like poverty and the use of food banks. This week saw the kick-off of our food banks campaign, which is something we’ve not looked at in any detail in my many several some years with GU Amnesty. Way back in the campaigns meeting one of the reasons suggested in favour of choosing food banks as a campaigns was the locality of the issue: in 2009 there was one Trussel Trust food bank in Scotland; in 2013 there were 42, with another 17 in development (1). Recent public events in Glasgow have seen en-masse donations to food banks, underscoring a level of interest and appreciation of the issue from the public. At least, that’s the hope.

Food Banks in Scotland Infographic

In Scotland food banks and related services have expanded greatly even in the last few years.

The issue is both huge and uncomfortable. In the UK, mobdro free download estimates put the proportion of the population below the poverty line at 1 in 5. This is nearly 13 millions people, or nearly two-and-a-half times the population of Scotland. Those numbers are shocking, but can be hard to relate to; so let me put it a different way. Let’s say there were around thirty people at the meeting on Tuesday. If the group is representative of a national average (which I don’t think we are, but that’s not important here), it would be likely that one or two of the people you were sitting with at your group’s table is in poverty. Now, there’s admittedly a fair amount of hand-waving and inaccuracy in there, but the point is: one in five in poverty is huge.

Not quite as large but just as uncomfortable is the number of people using food banks in the UK. Sources put it at around 1 million, and we’re not alone: compare with 1.5 million in Germany. That’s a million people who most likely have a choice between a food bank, or going hungry. A choice between going hungry, and the potential social stigma associated with using a food bank- to be accused of being ‘too lazy to work’; ‘wanting something for free’; or the loss of pride felt at being unable to provide for themselves and their family. These aren’t choices any person anywhere should have to make, much less in the prosperous UK. It’s bad enough that the UK has been accused of violating the basic human right to food as a result.

Why have we gotten to this stage? One of the common definitions of poverty, includes those living at or below 60% of median household income (2). While this is both somewhat arbitrary and indirect, it would in itself point to a reason that an ever-higher proportion are in poverty: widening income disparity. But this still says next to nothing about the causes of poverty. There is a veritable laundry list of reasons put forward: disability, illness, racial discrimination, lone parent, or simply a person being born into poverty means it’s much more likely that they will remain in poverty. Tougher financial times will also have a significant impact on the standard of living, disproportionately so at the bottom end of the scale. One of the big reasons that came up in both videos we saw (Breadline Britain and Julie Webster discussing Maryhill Food Bank) was that benefit changes, reductions or even delays mean people are put in a situation where they may have to seek help with food.

Trussel Trust: Reasons for Food Bank Use

Stated reasons for accessing food banks vary

I could continue to quote statistics from the meeting we had on Tuesday – 4 million kids Mobdro Online TV living in deprivation; 2.5 in damp homes; 1.4 in homes that aren’t adequately heated; it goes on – but the case is clear enough. Fortunately, as ever with our campaigns, we can do something about this. This being a campaign with a very local focus, we can perhaps do even more than we could otherwise. It was extremely heartening to see both the generosity of food donated, and the enthusiasm for continuing to drive this forward. Breffni O’Connor voiced both her and the SRC’s support for widening the campaign for food donations; both she and others had some great ideas for how to go about this. There is potential for Glasgow University to come together and do something meaningful and of tremendous benefit to the community.

I really hope we do.

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  1. http://www.understandingglasgow.com/indicators/poverty/food_banks 
  2. http://www.poverty.ac.uk/definitions-poverty/income-threshold-approach 

Interview with William Francome, writer of ‘In Prison my Whole Life’

November 1, 2014 in Blog, death penalty by Rebecca Corbett

After our screening of  ‘In Prison all my life’, I spoke to film-maker and writer William Francome about what happened to Mumia Abu-Jamal, issues of racial tension in the US and his new project ‘The Penalty’ that will be starting raising money on Kickstarter on 6th November and looks to be released in early 2016.

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Prison_My_Whole_Life#mediaviewer/File:Inprisonmywholelife.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RC: I understand that Mumia’s death sentence was revoked after the film was released, can you bring me up to date on what’s happened?

WF: While we were making the film was being made his death sentence was vacated but he had to stay   on death row because the state pulled an appeal to keep him on death row. After the filming it finally went through the courts and his death sentence was vacated. In America you have two phases of a trial in a death penalty case, you have a  guilt phase and a sentencing phase. He is still considered guilty of the crime but not sentenced to death. So he is still imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole, so he will still stay in prison until he dies of old age and he has no chance of getting out, currently.

RC: You mentioned that he has a limited chance of getting out or a free trial still, why is this?

WF: It is very difficult to appeal court cases in America. I feel myself that there were some serious issues within his case, but the courts have essentially said that they do not feel that is the case. You have to prove that a certain fact would have been strong enough that it would have swayed a jury one way or the another. That’s not the easiest thing to do, it’s often conceptual. In Mumia’s case the judge, in his PCRA (Post Conviction Relief Act) hearing, came out of retirement  specially to hear the case – the same judge that had heard his case in the beginning. Considering one of the main issues of him having a fair trial, was the bias of the judge, it was kind of ridiculous to have the same judge. I know that Mumia was hopeful that he would get a new trial, that’s where we left the film, we thought he might get one and in the end he didn’t. While he is no longer on death row, he still feels like he is serving a death sentence, he still considers it to be a travesty and that he is innocent and that if he had his day in court  he would have been able to get his fair trial that we didn’t think he had and that Amnesty don’t think he had. Whether he shot the policeman or not, I don’t know but what I do know is that he didn’t have a fair trial.

RC: What was the experience of making ‘In Prison All My Life’, was it a big learning curve?

WF: Yes definitely, I was at university when I wrote down the idea for the first time. Originally I had written this idea for a film and no one was interested, my sister was working at ITV and she pitched it there and to some other people and I kind of gave up on the idea. Two years later my girlfriend Katie was like, ‘let’s do this’ and then we decided we were going to do it. We got very lucky, Colin Firth and his wife Lydia got involved, they heard about what we were doing and they wanted to help us do it. It was a fantastic experience, it was very stressful and it was a learning curve but we had some fantastic people on board and some people who were really dedicated to making this film and to letting me have this vision and go on this journey. I was able to go off and meet these people and ask the questions I wanted to ask.

RC: Do you think things have progressed in the US or does it appear to be quite stagnant?

WF: I do definitely think things are changing, I think now we are seeing a level of debate around the death penalty that we have never seen before. Mumia’s case was the loudest and it was the most famous in the late 90s,  in 1998 you had a 80% approval rate of the death penalty in the US but now it’s down to 53/54%. That is a huge swing in twenty years, a significant 30%,  and I think a lot of that is to do with exoneration particularly DNA exoneration. I think that people are understanding, ‘well god if there’s one innocent person than that’s probably one too many and how much is it costing us?’ I think that people have pretty much acknowledged that it costs almost three times as much to have someone on death row and to executed than to leave them in prison for life.  I think that the general public is understanding a lot more, I can definitely tell that there is a shift and once you get to a point when you’re around 50% then it’s time to think that it is a fundamental issue in society  and surely we should look for a unanimous rather than a case of 50% either way.

RC: 53% still seems quite high, why do you think this is?

WF: I think there is all sorts of historical situations and reasons, I also think popular support in the UK is probably not as far off that as you think. I think people in America think that it is appropriate for people who have done horrendous things. I am not going to tell people what they should or should not agree with it. I think people think the death penalty is quite often an abstract thought of ‘someone deserves to die for doing this horrendous thing.’

When you actually explain to people,  it costs this much money and this is how many people who have been found to be innocent, and the issues of getting a fair trial in America, (especially if you’re poor or you’re some sort of minority), I think having something like an execution as the ultimate punishment suddenly seems like quite a major thing and I think when people begin to understand that their abstract idea of the death penalty really changes.

RC: Do you think that getting a fair trial in the US is still a big issue?

WF: Yes totally, there are endless people who’ve been innocent ended up on death row and in every case you hear the same thing time and time again: ‘I had a bad attorney’, ‘I didn’t have enough money to put up a good defence’, ‘the cops were racist’, or ‘I falsely admitted after two days of interrogation’. We had are these same problems crop up over and over again. I think what we are seeing with the 1000 people that have been exonerated from the Innocent Project is not just exceptional cases, but that there was a massive problem with injustice. Most people clean out because they’re too terrified whether they’re guilty or innocent, if you’re facing 100 years in prison  but are told that if you plead guilty you’ll get 10 years in prison then even if they’re not guilty you’ll still plead out. There are some serious serious issues with the American justice system. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to get a fair trial but I would not say it is a flawless system by any means.

RC: Do you think there is still a problem with racial prejudice in the US?

WF: Totally, I think there completely is. I think many of people wanted to see the election of Obama as America suddenly becoming this post-racial nation that had dealt with its’ race and history. But at the end of the day black men are still locked up in a way that is unprecedented in anywhere else in the world. We’re in a time where prison is a solution to a lot of society’s issues and people just get banged up to deal with whole sections of society. I think particularly in poor urban nations, policing is a completely different situation. For young black males, their experience of the criminal justice system is totally different to what I would have got as a young white teenager growing up in suburban America. I think those issues are still definitely there, even though we have elected a black president and the odd people who can surpass the issues the wider issue is still there. I think that it is very hard to change those, unless you really invest and change things through education, through policing, through jobs. Unless you tackle those issues you will see the same issues over and over again.

RC: Is lack of representation still a major issue?

WF: I think it’s a lack of equality on multiple levels. If you do not have a certain level of education, and your parents did not have access to a certain level of education so they did not have as good jobs so you then have the problem of poverty. This is very broad brush strokes, but say you have a lower level of health, and a lower life expectancy and you have less opportunities and access to jobs. And say you’re in an area where you have less access to jobs and you’re policed in a certain way because you’re considered to be more dangerous and scary than other parts of society. Whether that is by black or white police officers. I think it a multitude of issues that all get compounded together, the overall effect is still a very unequal society.

RC: Can you tell me a bit about your new film, more death penalty (!) what led you to continue with this topic?

WF: (Laughs) I promise this will be the last death penalty project! Last year, I drove across America with my co-director and a couple of producers  we made ten films on the road. (The project is called ‘One for Ten‘) They’re all online and are free to download. It was a project that we wanted to be open to the public and it to be as interactive as possible. However, after this we still had a few more questions and in this privileged position with these relationships we had made we wanted to do another project answering these questions. In America it seems to be a really important point with the death penalty, we’re approaching the 50% mark, and I think when you approach the 50% mark then we really should be talking about this a bit more deeply. So we wanted to make a film that answered all these questions.

RC: What is different about your new film? 

WF: In this new film The Penalty, we are going to be talking to people about it from all sides, and we’re following three major characters.  This one guy who was on death row and was released after 15 years and who has got his life back on track, a lawyer who is trying to prevent his client from being executed by one of these new drug cocktails, and the third and final story which we are still looking for which is a family who are waiting for the execution of a loved one. We really want to look at it from all sides and look at what the reasons are for having it and what the reasons are for not having it. We don’t want it to be a campaign piece saying this is what you should think, we really want people to ask themselves questions. We think people often think of the death penalty as an abstract term so the worst of the worst people who have done the most horrendous things. I think often that is not the case, and the reality is a lot more complex. We just want to show those people and ask them: ‘what do you think now?’ and is this the sort of society you want to live in.

[Further updates will be made with the rest of the interview! Another three/four questions to follow.]

Dr Marco Goldoni: A discussion on racial issues and the law

November 1, 2014 in Blog, information by Rebecca Corbett

Passing through a major station, wearing a back pack because you are on your way home, you are stopped and searched. No one else around you is searched or even appears to be considered. Why are you stopped? Is it because you have brown skin and fit a certain stereotype, you hope not. However sadly the police on duty has decided you fit the classic ‘terrorist’ description. Therefore your bag, instead of containing clothes and your reading for the evening, must be carrying some form of explosive.

A woman was stopped and searched, her husband was left unquestioned and when she asked; ‘why did you stop me?’ The police officer replied: ‘well, obviously because you are black.’ She took it to court, stating that it was a violation of Article 14 of the Spanish constitution. However her complaints were discharged saying that it was not an issue of racial discrimination, but instead based on factual evidence that had showed that certain ethnic groups were more likely to commit a crime.

Ethnic profiling is still used by both American and British police forces with no justification as is acts of prejudice within policing decisions, education and limited access for ethnic minorities. This breaks and breaches Article 14 of the American constitution and also the Humans Rights Act.

In a discussion led by Dr. Marco Goldoni at our meeting on Tuesday 28th October, he outlined a few major issues of racial prejudice in law cases. As well as the issue of ethnic profiling, he explained that in most cases of racial differentiation your “identity is externally determined by external forces.” He  used the example of slavery to explain this, as during this period African Americans were “assumed to be part of a certain work force” solely because of their racial identification. (Consider the situation in the film 12 Years a Slave).

Even though law has declared a removal of prejudice, on all grounds of race (as well as gender and sexuality) this does not mean that laws can be twisted and prejudices can exist outside of the law. One situation, Goldoni explained, falls down to urban development.

Take this an example: Imagine a high school is being built in a suburb to help with local education as there is a shortage of schools in the area. The school is built far enough away from the communities largely made up of ethnic minorities that it is not accessible by foot, instead you need to get a car or a taxi. How about if you cannot afford a car or a taxi? Public transport links happen to have been cut to this certain high school. With no available public transport, the new school, that is built in a leafy suburb, is only accessible to those with a certain level of income, as they either own a car or live in the surrounding area. This shows how public services can be limited by decisions based on prejudice in urban planning.

The issue of race, Goldoni explained, is that it is always going to be a plural term and it will always depend on a hierarchy. This hierarchy positions ‘white’ at the top of the ranking, as a ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ race, declaring all others ‘impure’. The fact that this is even a topic for discussion shows that while it is the 21st century and people can talk to each other on the other side of the world through a computer screen, the Western world socially still has a long way to go.

Maybe we should all just take a leaf our of Sweden’s book and remove the word race from our constitution? However, whether the word is used or not, Goldoni reminded us that unlike citizenship which can be tested for and given or in the case of Malta even sold, race is something “you will never be able to escape” as there will “never be a market for race.”

Ferguson: A dream for racial equality past, present and future

October 22, 2014 in Blog, information, main by Rebecca Corbett

On 26th August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) addressed Washington D.C. and said the iconic words, ‘I have a dream’. He called for the country that was called the United States to become a united nation; a country that would allow both black Americans and white Americans to sit side by side and show mutual respect.

On the 9th August 2014, 51 years after MLK said the iconic words, that dream is sadly still shown to be a pipe dream. While African Americans in terms of legality have a voice, in local government that voice is still that of a second class citizen, under-represented and not heard enough of.

The recent events in Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting of teenager Michael Brown has brought this to light. In a community that is 67% black, in local government that representation does not equate; the city council has a mere 17% of black representatives, with a white mayor, and the police force is even lower at only 6%. Over here, such inequality would contravene the human rights act article 14, which demands that all human rights be’ exercised without discrimination’. I find it difficult to believe that African Americans simply just don’t want to be involved in local government.

It is sad to see that in a progressive and forward thinking country that prides itself on the American dream, that the dream of MLK has still not been held up and that racial prejudice is still widely seen.

The appointment of Barack Obama indeed shows how far the country has come, however due to the recent breaches of the First Amendment (which includes the right to peaceful assembly; here implemented in the human rights act under articles 10 and 11), it is apparent that the dream that MLK called for in Washington DC is still one that needs to be fought for.

Therefore it is important that we at Glasgow University Amnesty Society still stand with Ferguson and fight for fair sentencing of Police Officer Darren Wilson in January, greater racial equality and continue to hope for the dream that MLK outlined half a century ago.

With the human rights acts, it is not a case of picking and choosing for certain individuals, if someone is human then these are the acts and they should not be breached.

Reporting on the Documentary: In Prison my Whole Life

October 14, 2014 in Blog, death penalty, main by Rebecca Corbett

Mumia Abu-Jamal was taken into police custody on 9th December, 1981 after being accused of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner with limited evidence. He has remained under police control ever since.

That is, at the time of writing (14th October 2014), 11,997.6 days (32 years, 10 months). Ten years more than my life time. He spent 11,008 days on death row waiting to die, until on 29th January 2012, after over a decade of public protest, his death sentence was repealed.

How you ask, can a government get away with keeping someone on death row in the 21st century without a fair trial? The answer, Abu-Jamal’s case like a number of others, relies upon a court decision with a jury that is fairly represented and a judge who is impartial.

Abu-Jamal had neither of these in his original court case.

The prosecutor in Abu-Jamal’s case, Joseph McGill, de-valued the role of the jury by saying that the case would be “appeal after appeal” and that he would not ever be executed.  This could have led to a less engaged jury. The jury was also not racially representative, with only three African Americans on the jury (25%), when the African American population at the time in Philadelphia was 44%.

At a period of severe racial hatred, racial representation was critical in a court of law. While he was not executed, he still spent 11,008 days waiting to die, something that can only be described as a slow tortured death.

Before the 'Mumia' law was passed that removed the possibility of taking photos of prisoners.

This photo was taken before the ‘Mumia’ law was passed in Pennsylvania which removed the possibility of taking photos or video footage of prisoners.

The lack of a fair trial also extends to the judge; Judge F.Sabo had a track record of sentencing people to death; he sentenced 33 people to execution in his career.  Overheard at the beginning of the trial saying “I’m going to help them fry the n*****”, he was openly corrupt and racist. This suggests that perhaps personal opinions influenced his court ruling, which resulted in the death of only two white people out of 33.

Another important point to add, is there is little concrete evidence to show that Abu-Jamal was guilty. From looking at photos taken by Pedro Polakoff at the scene, that came into public view in 2012, it is clear to see the murder weapon being held along-side Falkner’s police gun in another police officer’s un-gloved hand. This shows that no forensic investigation had taken place.

Later it appeared that  witness, Veronica Jones, a prostitute had been blackmailed by the police force to speak out against Abu-Jamal in return for a removal of her 10 year sentence which had meant that she would lose custody of her children. When she admitted her false testimony in 1996, Jones was called up on a five year old sentence for an unsigned cheque of $250 and arrested in the court room.

The corruption in the case surrounding the witnesses, also led only eye-witness who saw the whole event to remain silent. This was the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Billy Cook, who Mumia had come to help as he was being assaulted by the deceased police officer.

Further corruption in the case is shown through the changing of statements from police officers, initially reported as having said ‘nothing’, this was changed a month later to Abu-Jamal screaming out and saying: “I shot the motherf**ker and I hope he dies.” As he was suffering from a punctured lung that was filling up with blood, medical evidence suggested that this would have not been possible for him to speak, let alone scream.

While corruption in the case is three-fold and required a re-trial time and time again it was rejected, and was only taken up on June 10th 1991, after Abu-Jamal had spent nine years and six months on death row.

Abu-Jamal is in an inescapable situation as he is still imprisoned for life without parole. However, he still manages to provide a “voice for the voiceless”, and keeps in touch with his former job as a radio journalist and newspaper journalist. Reporting on Ferguson and comparing it to Gaza two days ago on prison radio, he still fights for justice, even when justice has kept him behind bars.

His fighting for justice, also turned him into an author of seven books, with multiple best sellers. He also has a book coming out next year which shows that this prisoner, while he has lost his freedom of movement has definitely not lost his freedom of speech.

Abu Jamal, similar to the likes of Martin Luther King, fought for what he believed in. However, because it did not go against those who could be ‘demonised’, the good old police force, he instead was tarred with the brush of a ‘terrorist’ and removed from public view and contained within ‘a room the size of your bathroom’.

The issue of racial prejudice, has come back into the news recently with the outburst in Ferguson, St. Louis after the death of teenager Michael Brown. Similar to the case of Abu-Jamal, the police officer involved has not been tried in a court of law.

The major problem that has arisen from this is that popular belief is that if the young teenager had been white, there would have been greater repercussions. Or if it had been the police officer, as in the case of Abu-Jamal, Michael Brown would have been charged.

It appears that the police force, can only be the good guys. Even in the wake of Ferguson which has shone another light on racial prejudice, it is almost impossible to challenge the police force, even if it appears that they are breaching human rights. The police in Ferguson were shown to be using tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters.

 

Update: Call For a Conflict-Free Glasgow

March 24, 2014 in Blog by Ellen MacAskill

On Friday 14th, four of us from the committee attended a meeting with David Newall, Secretary of Court for the University, and Jo Gallagher, Head of Procurement. As Ruth has pointed out it was frustratingly similar to the meeting she had with him on the subject this time last year. I took notes throughout the meeting and thought it would be worth updating you all on what happened. From here we can plan our next steps so that the new committee can continue the fight into the next academic year.

Unfortunately it seemed that Gallagher had not been fully briefed on the campaign at hand; not realising that it only focussed on the procurement of technology. She emphasised that the university does not take full responsibility for the sourcing of materials. Instead this goes through a framework of guidelines decided by the umbrella group APUC. This is governed by EU regulations. She said that she would enquire whether the APUC currently have a system of due diligence and corporate responsibility.

Newall’s two issues seemed to be as follows: that the university must not discriminate unfairly against companies or breach contractual obligations in its procurement policy; and that the university cannot make political statements as an institution. His excuse for unresponsiveness was that conflict minerals are “not important enough” from the university’s perspective.

He justified the political undertones of GU’s divestment from the tobacco industry by saying that it should promote healthy living and that extensive research here goes into the prevention of cancer. This is indisputable. More closely linked to CFCI is the movement calling for the divestment of fossil fuels. The issue is yet to be brought to university court. It struck us that this campaign is being viewed in terms of ethical and sustainable development – as should CFCI. (Personally I find it difficult to see why the university is comfortable to tacitly support genocide via its consumerism, but uncomfortable with making a political statement against it.)

Both Newall and Gallagher iterated implicitly that a top-down approach is the only way to push the university towards change. Clearly they feel out of their depth discussing Congo. It is understandable to want to avoid making bold statements which they are unable to follow up with action. However, Ruth requested that Newall send on an official response explaining why the university is not participating in the movement.

We discussed the progress that support for Congo has made worldwide in the last year. More companies, including Apple, are investigating their supply chains and recognising the conflict. The EU will vote on bringing in guidance for responsible companies relating to conflict minerals later this year*. The success that certain campuses in the USA have seen was mentioned, but dismissed as being allowed under very different systems of policy and procurement.

To close the meeting Ruth handed over the petition, which has been circulated on campus and collected over 400 signatures.

Newall pushed the importance of the SRC’s support as he thinks that having the issue taken to court is the first feasible step. Since the meeting we have discovered that the motion which was sent to the SRC was not in fact passed, as we had believed. This accounts for the lack of movement from them and will hopefully be rectified soon.

Breffni O’Connor, the new SRC president, is enthusiastic to help us get the motion passed at the next council meeting in April. In an email she said: “[The meeting] is also the last of the year. So it will need to be passed at this one. I think the best way to do it is to send us the motion but also to prepare a presentation to our council. It was done this was by Climate Action and I think it went down a lot better, if there’s no presentation people might not concentrate in full. And our council will fire you lots of questions, these discussions usually last a while.”

There is also talk of forming an inter-society coalition. This has been very effective for other events and campaigns, such as the Coalition for Syrian Refugees which Amnesty took part in earlier this year. Many NGOs and charities on campus are likely to be interested in supporting us. This will hopefully start up in the next academic year, as at the moment many societies are having AGMs and changing their committees. The increase in exposure that CFCI would get from broadening its audience in Glasgow is vital to progress.

To sign the petition, or read the motion in full, click here: www.guamnesty.org.uk/2013/02/petition-for-a-conflict-free-glasgow/

If you missed my last blog summarising the campaign, read it here: http://www.guamnesty.org.uk/2014/02/call-for-a-conflict-free-glasgow/

*Draft legislation proposed by the European Commission on 5th March 2014 http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/march/tradoc_152227.pdf

Organ Harvesting & the Battle Between China and Falun Gong

March 14, 2014 in Blog by Ellen MacAskill

“There is enough circumstantial evidence to the alert the international community to what amounts to genocide.” – European Parliament Vice President on reports of Falun Gong practitioners being killed so their organs can be sold for transplants.

Falun Gong, otherwise known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practised based on a combination of ancient oriental philosophies including Buddhism and Taoism. Truthfulness, kindness and tolerance are its three pinnacles of belief. It has no formal organisation or leader. Practitioners focus on meditation to find harmony between the mind and body and look inside themselves for spiritual fulfilment. It can benefit physical as well as mental health.

Since July 1999, the Chinese Communist Party has been condemning the practice as an “evil cult.” It was branded illegal. The millions of people who had found solace in the practice since the early 1990s were persecuted. Slanderous propaganda was circulated to schools and the public, and a process of “re-education” was announced by the CCP. These terrifying Orwellian tactics continue to this day.

A growing body of evidence shows that China are using prisoners of the Falun Gong practice to fatally harvest organs from, which are sold on for profit. China does not have a formal transplantation system, so the huge amount of organs that they provide to national and international patients each year is unaccounted for. In the past they have harvested organs from executed prisoners, however the total is kept a secret.

Apparently, many of those arrested for practising Falun Gong refuse to give their real names to the police. These people then fall off the record so if they are killed it is undetectable. At a press conference in 2013, China’s Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, described the current organ procurement system as “profit-driven, unethical, and violating human rights.” He also admitted that the number of transplants performed yearly grew from several hundred in 1999 to over 10,000 in 2008. MEP Edward McMillan-Scott has stated that: “It is clear that Falun Gong is to the communist regime what the Jews were to the Gestapo.”

This week we were visited by Yuyu, who returned to Amnesty to raise awareness of this issue. She screened a film entitled “Free China: The Courage to Believe” which details the stories of two campaigners who are fighting against the punishment of their spiritual practice.

Jennifer Zeng is a former Communist Party member who went through a year of testing before being allowed to join the Party. She was convinced that it would give her a leg up in society. After the birth of her first child, she was forced to abort her second due to the one-child policy. Her health suffered. When she found Falun Gong, however, she felt transformed – she says learned to stop trying to control other people and to only control herself.

Then the CCP which Jen was loyal to, who actively promoted the practice initially, turned against it in a drastic move. Falun Gong practitioners at that point outnumbered Party members. The widespread dedication to it went against state values of Marxism and atheism, first enforced by Mao in 1949. What was once such a positive thing for China lost its influence in a heartbeat. The CCP essentially run a totalitarian regime which does not tolerate anything which will pose an ideological threat to its motives. People found and benefited from spirituality in a country which prioritised consumerism and commercial gain in the 20th century.

Jennifer was arrested for attending a Falun Gong gathering in 2000 and sentenced to one year in a forced labour camp. Police used force and electrocution and humiliation to control her, and she was denied an appeal. In the camps, prisoners work for hours each day making consumer goods such as hand-knitted sweaters. Jen even made toy rabbits for the Nestle chocolate company. All were exported to the West.

Charles Lee is an American-Chinese businessman who practised Falun Gong. When he heard about the prosecutions, and the way that the internet and media were being used to survey the “crime”, he felt compelled to return to his native country from America. Charles attempted to intercept TV channels and broadcast pro-Falun Gong information. However, he was forced to flee the country after a near miss with the police. When he returned to China a year on, he was arrested at the airport. In jail he went on near-fatal hunger strike. His case became a study for the US Congress as they began to address the issue.

Those held in labour camps for their spiritual practices are forced to display reform before they are released. Jen did this so that she could continue the fight outside. It was an extremely difficult thing to do, particularly when she was held up an as example to others who shared her beliefs.

After release, Charles and Jen were eventually reunited with their families in different parts of the world, and continue the fight for the protection of Falun Gong practitioners.

Joining Yuyu was lawyer Mrs Grace Xu, who spoke to us first-hand about her experience. She found the healing properties of Falun Gong through a roommate at university, well into the 2000s and years after the CCP launched their attack. After a decade of practising Falun Gong, Grace was arrested on her doorstep one morning. She tried to relate to us how brutal life was in the camp she was sent to, and how difficult it is for us to imagine, living in a free democratic country like the UK. She was transferred to a camp reserved for Falun Gong practitioners. Now seeking asylum in the UK, Grace has not seen her daughter for two years.

Yuyu expressed her happiness at the turnout to the event, saying that growing up in China she was faithful to the CCP and shielded from human rights issues. Only when she left did she become aware of what is hidden.

GUAI member Milia Hau, who grew up in Hong Kong, was shocked to learn the truth about Falun Gong. She says: “In Hong Kong the CCP’s influence is not as strong as in China; there are always campaigns about human rights like lawyers disappearing, political prisoners etc. But because Falun Gong is a non-mainstream religious group that most people avoid and ignore in Hong Kong, the fact that Falun Gong practitioners were tortured in China was ignored, despite loads of constant campaign booths in the city’s shopping areas. I personally think it is equally unfair torturing this group, just because their view opposed the party’s view, as torturing other groups inside China.”

Zoom out of the personal pictures, and what is being done globally? The internet has been a big hurdle in the battle between the CCP and campaigners. China censors everything online; however, people out of surveillance’s eye have managed to intercept the “Great Firewall” to provide safe and true information about Falun Gong, available without trace to Chinese internet users.

Ethan Guttman, a human rights investigator and China analyst, gave a talk at Amnesty’s annual Student Conference in Edinburgh this month, which committee members Ali and Maisie attended. He is currently completing a history of the clash between Falun Gong and the CCP. He estimates that approximately 65,000 Falun Gong adherents may have been killed for their organs between 2000 and 2008.

Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting started a petition to the UN last year, urging them to “call upon the Chinese government to immediately end the brutal persecution of Falun Gong, which is the root cause for the forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners.” It received over 1.5 million signatures in less than 5 months. The European Parliament also passed a motion last year condemning the practice. As Yuyu said, these steps are all positive, but the bureaucracy that must be broken down before real change is made means that campaigning is still as vital as ever.

Find out more about Falun Gong: http://en.falundafa.org/

Sign DAFOH’s petition to the UN: https://www.dafoh.org/petition-to-the-united-nations/

Watch the film for free: http://freechina.ntdtv.org/

Read recent article from EP Vice President: http://fofg.org/2014/01/we-recall-the-holocaust-we-should-recognize-genocide-in-china-today/ (this website also has information about how Falun Gong has been banned in Russia).

 

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Happy International Women’s Week!

March 7, 2014 in Blog by Ellen MacAskill

This week Glasgow University has put on a full schedule of events to promote discussion, awareness and celebration in the run-up to International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The ever-increasing consciousness of gender issues on our campus deserves such recognition, and the array of things going on has been testament to that. (I only wish I’d had Hermione Granger’s time-keeper to allow me to be at three seminars at once.) A big ‘thank you’ goes to Domi and Rob whose organisational efforts have been fantastic.

On Tuesday our meeting was attended by ex-GUAI member and qualified Amnesty speaker Elena Soper, who gave a presentation about women’s rights in Afghanistan. This is currently Amnesty UK’s specific women’s rights campaign. It was eye-opening to learn about how gender equality in the country went from an upwards trajectory, with equal suffrage being granted in 1919, to a complete backwards landslide following the Russian invasion in 1979. When the extremist Taliban regime commenced in 1996, female oppression was worse than ever before. Women were banned from working, studying, and even going out unchaperoned by a man.

When the UK and US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, many political figures justified the move on the grounds of supporting women. This is a highly contentious issue but, either way, women’s suffering is ongoing. Three years ago the country was called the ‘Most Dangerous Place to be a Woman’ by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. Elena detailed some shocking case-study stories about activists who have dared to challenge discrimination by practising education and abortion, and faced consequences such as fatal violence against their family members.

Amnesty UK’s website has a lot more information about their activists and campaign actions: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Women’s-rights-in-Afghanistan

Our president Ruth then ran a workshop about socialisation and the media. We had a flick through a variety of magazines for different demographics and discussed how they represent (or do not represent) women. After being an avid reader of such boy-obsessed teen rags in my younger years, it was odd to revisit what I once took for granted. The lack of intelligent content in magazines for women and young girls is amazing. Just last week I was dismayed to open Q magazine, one of the biggest and most well-respected music publications, and see an advert encouraging readers to vote for ‘FHM’s sexiest woman’. No, thank you.

Lads mags and tabloids were another matter altogether. Ruth handed out sheets of misogynistic quotes. Once we all felt sufficiently nauseated by what we had read, she revealed that these were a combination of snippets from lads mags and quotes from convicted rapists. In a study*, men who did not know where the quotes came from said they identified more with the rapists’ sentiments. Due to the rapid growing-up process expected of teenagers today, ever younger boys are picking up magazines like Nuts and Zoo to educate themselves about sex, and this is what they are exposed to. Quotes that perpetuate and out-do rape culture.

*Links to the study: Reported in Jezebel; original research by University of Surrey

Our debate then turned to censorship and what we would like to be done about this harmful material. (A fortnight ago, after some of us were disappointed by what we heard at Cheesy Pop, ‘Blurred Lines’ was finally banned from being played at the QMU. The song has been known to trigger damaging responses in victims of sexual assault, and as such should not be played in a space which is supposed to be safe for students.)

On Thursday we were visited by the wonderful Eileen Maitland, Information Worker at Rape Crisis Scotland. She screened a film called ‘Consent’, about how our prejudices affect rape cases in court. It was part drama presented by actors, part documentary-style court case with real-life officials and jury. The most shocking aspect was the opinions expressed by the jury, who eventually voted to acquit the rapist. There was a lack of compassion and understanding, and constant diversions from the question at hand: whether or not the woman consented to the act. At one point before the trial, the (real) police officer said: “Just because it’s ‘not guilty’, doesn’t mean to say it didn’t happen.” This seemed to sum up the message of the film; that just because so few rape cases end in convictions, this is not because false allegations are disproportionately high for this specific crime. A change of public attitude would make a huge difference to the experiences of victims who are brave enough to report rape.

Rape Crisis Scotland are currently campaigning for women to be represented by a lawyer in court, as currently the prosecutor is only representing justice. They are also distributing information and statistics to promote the fact that false allegations of rape are no common than they are for any other crime.

To find out more visit: www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

If you are free tonight and would like to kick off your weekend with some all-girl theatre with ‘vagina’ in the title (who wouldn’t?) then join us in Qudos at the QMU for The Vagina Monologues. This cult show is being staged by students for the second year running. Proceeds go to Rape Crisis Scotland, plus our Publicity Officer Nikola is starring. Afterwards, GU FemSoc are hosting a feminist themed Cheesy Pop, complete with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry tribute acts. Suffragette and/or riot grrrl costumes optional.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the brilliant Ursula Le Guin:

“We are volcanoes. When we, women, offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

P.S. Congratulations to Domi our Ordinary Board Member who has been elected the SRC’s new Charities, Clubs and Societies Officer! We know you will be wonderful if you put even half as much passion into the role as you have done into Amnesty this year.

Call for a Conflict Free Glasgow

February 27, 2014 in Blog, main by Ellen MacAskill

The Conflict Free Campus Initiative has been growing up gradually at Glasgow University since GU Amnesty International took on the campaign in 2012. So why are so many people still in the dark about the bloodshed that fuels our technology habit?

CFCI calls for regulation of minerals used by large Western technology manufacturers, bought from mines in the war-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. The war there has dominated the country’s landscape since the early 1990s. The International Rescue Committee estimated that 5.4 million fatalities have occurred as a result since 1996. Rape is used as a weapon of control over the population and children are involved in fighting from a young age. The statistics are staggering for a conflict which receives such little media coverage. We rely on these countries for minerals such as gold, tungsten, tantalum, and the ores that produce tin. Armed rebels groups, domestic and foreign, pillage the land’s natural resources then sell them on to large corporations.

A lack of transparency in the production line means that consumers of products such as phones and laptops remain ignorant.

At university we spend millions of pounds cumulatively on technology. By sourcing products from companies that check and regulate their supply chain, we can encourage other companies to do the same. But no one is asking Glasgow’s library to send its computers to the dump. CFCI calls for university policy to prioritise the increasing number of companies who have expressed concern over the matter, when buying products from now on. Intel and HP are leaders in this field and just recently Apple have resolved to investigate their supply chain for conflict-related atrocities.

GUAI started circulating a petition last year to David Newall, Secretary of Court, and Principal Anton Muscatelli, calling on them to make Glasgow conflict free. A motion has been passed through the SRC in support of the movement, however their power is limited and progress has been slow. To raise awareness of the campaign a video was filmed by members, with help from Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

A letter-writing action to Newall last semester has prompted another meeting to be planned with him and Jo Gallagher, Head of Procurement for the university. We are preparing for this opportunity to give the campaign the attention it deserves.

In March, in collaboration with the charity Earth Movies, we will be screening ‘Blood in the Mobile’. The documentary directed by Frank Piasecki Poulsen investigates the relation of mobile phone companies to the conflict in Congo. Following the screening will be a panel discussion, with speakers to be confirmed, plus a Q & A session. The joint publicity between GUAI and Earth Movies will reach out the event to a wide audience.

In February our members partook in the global #CongoPeace photo campaign. This social media campaign is designed to show our support for the women of Congo. The images will be collected and presented in a book to Special Envoys at a UN conference focussing on resource exploitation and sexual violence.

To give the Conflict Free Glasgow campaign a boost before the imminent meeting, we will be submitting informative articles to campus press such as the Glasgow Guardian newspaper.

Let’s make Glasgow a Conflict Free Campus!

http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/initiatives/conflict-minerals

Human Trafficking in the UK and Beyond

February 20, 2014 in Blog, main by Ellen MacAskill

Hear “trafficking” and of what do you think? Women being shipped around South East Asia for sex work? Crowded sweatshops in India?

These are undoubtedly huge issues but the extent of human trafficking today is more far-reaching than many realise. On Tuesday’s meeting we kicked off our new campaign with a visit from Euan of Stop the Traffik, who volunteers in the Glasgow branch of the international charity. The grassroots group raise awareness in communities to make it more difficult for traffickers to slip through the net.

Key points from the talk were as follows:

–          Trafficking should not be confused with an immigration problem.

–          Trafficking equals slavery.

–          Traffickers’ prerogative is the exploitation of vulnerability.

On the same day that we held our meeting, the National Crime Agency released a report which shows that the number of trafficked people in the UK has more than doubled in the past year. They stated that their estimate numbers will be far below the actual number, which remains hidden from view. Euan suggests that the increased statistics may be down to an improvement in detection processes. Apparently there are more slaves in the world today than there ever have been in the past.

Victims of trafficking can be lured by the promise of marriage or work. They can be forced into prostitution, unpaid labour, domestic slavery, or crime activity. Violence, rape and induced drug and alcohol addiction are all used as weapons of control. Psychological control is a less detectable but equally dangerous method.

Euan gave some specific examples of trafficking in the UK. One young Nigerian girl was promised marriage in the UK but found herself being forced to work in a brothel. When she became pregnant, she was forced into abortion, then later turned out onto the street. In another case four Czech men seeking work were enslaved in Birmingham and made to live in slum-like conditions.

The internet has put vulnerable victims within the reach of traffickers in ways that were not previously possible. The “business” is the second most profitable of all organised crime. When considering why the industry is catching up with drug-dealing in terms of money quanitites, Euan says: “You can sell a body again and again.” These chilling thoughts can go some way to explain why the problem continues to grow.

Stop the Traffik are focussing on two international campaigns at the moment, targeted at the cotton industry and the chocolate industry. Fairtrade branding only refers to the picking and harvesting of the cotton. The manufacturing stage goes un-policed and many Western clothing chains are oblivious to the fact that people in the factories they buy from have been trafficked or are being underpaid. Children, particularly in West Africa, are often used to collect cocoa beans for no payment. One Amnesty member from Ghana suggests that people there might give their children to family members to be worked on their farms for nothing, so the children themselves are not aware that they are being abused. Consumer awareness can put pressure on ignorant Western companies to decrease demand for cheap labour and tackle the problem.

In April, Stop the Traffik will be lobbying at the Scottish Parliament to push a proposed bill which addresses the issue. Amongst other things, it outlines a new victim support service and a single coherent definition of what human trafficking is. Unfortunately the Scottish Parliament have not yet backed the bill, instead turning attention to Westminster’s Modern Slavery bill, which is more focussed on crime rather than the implicated human rights abuses.

If you are in Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games, look out for Stop the Traffik’s ‘Gift Boxes’ popping up on the streets, which lure in passers-by with an attractive exterior then reveal to them the realities of human trafficking on the inside.

Have a look on http://www.stopthetraffik.org/ for more information.

 

On a brighter note: SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALL!

Hopefully you have all got your tickets by now and are looking forward to an evening of jokes and merriment.

If not then get them for the reduced advanced price of £5/7 (with after-party) up until midnight on Friday by clicking here:

http://www.guamnesty.org.uk/spb-2014/

Also if you missed it and want a taster for the event, here’s an article that qmunicate let me write about why it will be so wonderful:

http://qmunicatemagazine.com/2014/02/11/secret-policemans-ball-stand-up-for-human-rights/

See you there folks.