Yesterday's Sunday Times has returned to its efforts to link Amnesty International with the Taliban, in a piece claiming that Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific director, backed Gita Saghal and "has urged the charity to admit it made a 'mistake' by failing publicly to oppose the views of a former terror suspect".
In response, the organisation's interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone, has sent the following letter:
Sam Zarifi has also sent a letter to the Sunday Times, which says:
Your article (‘Second Amnesty chief attacks Islamist links’, 14 February) misses the point.
A central element in the development of our policy and strategies has always been a frank, informed and robustly-argued debate involving people – like Gita Sahgal and Sam Zarifi– who are acknowledged as experts in their fields.
Like with any of our campaigning work, our work with Moazzam Begg in the context of the Counter Terror with Justice campaign was also the subject of a healthy internal debate in which different views were expressed.
In the end, we decided to work with Moazzam Begg to highlight the suffering of those being held at Guantánamo and to campaign for its closure. Nothing has yet come to our attention that would justify us stopping this work.
Lastly, Gita Sahgal was not suspended for voicing her concerns in our internal debates. The suspension is not a sanction. She remains employed on full pay.
This at least appears to clear up a couple of points that I have been waiting for answers to. Firstly, it seems that Gita Sahgal was suspended solely for talking to the Sunday Times because she didn't agree with the outcome of what sounds like a robust internal debate, not as punishment for voicing the concerns within Amnesty.
Your recent article mischaracterizes my views.
I have been a part of the internal AI debate surrounding the issue of AI’s collaboration with various groups as part of its campaign to close down Guantánamo.
My opinions have been heard, considered, and where appropriate, implemented.
I do not oppose our current initiative working with Moazzam Begg in the recent European tour seeking to convince European states to receive more of the Guantánamo detainees who cannot be repatriated because of the risk of further human rights abuses.
As I told my programme staff in the internal email leaked to your paper, my concern has been that AI’s campaigning has not been sufficiently clear that when we defend somebody’s right to be free from torture or unlawful detention, we do not necessarily embrace their views totally.
This raises the risk of creating a perception, particularly in South Asia, that AI is somehow pro-Taleban or anti-women, playing into the rhetoric often used against us by governments and groups in the region that wish to deflect our criticism. But any suggestion that our work with Moazzam Begg or Cageprisoners has weakened our condemnation of abuses by the Taleban or other similarly-minded groups does not withstand scrutiny.
I believe that it was wrong to take this debate into the public in the manner and at the time done. And I fully agree with the measures AI has taken in response to the decision to publicize this debate now and in this manner.
Secondly, the implication in public statements that Ms Saghal's "highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise" support her stance does not seem to extend to the director of Amnesty’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who obviously feels it was wrong to take internal discussions into the public domain and who supports the decision to suspend her.
Separately from the Sunday Times' latest coverage, the website supporting Gita Saghal also has a statement from a number of Algerian women's activists supporting her on for standing up against "fundamentalists who, as perpetrators of violations, cannot be considered defenders of rights." As far as I know, not even Ms Saghal has accused Moazzam Begg of personal culpability in actual human rights violations - her issue is with his views. Isn't conflating the two a rather dangerous road to venture down, one based almost exactly on the George W Bush formula that 'if your not X, you must be Y?
POSTSCRIPT: Anyone wanting to see what providing a platform to an extremist who advocates violence is like, then check this out