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Gita Sahgal talks again to the BBC about her ‘unease’ with Moazzam Begg (with transcript)

February 10, 2010

From BBC Radio 4’s Today programme 10 February 2010

The head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit, Gita Sahgal, has been suspended following her claim that the human rights group has too close a relationship with Moazzam Begg the former Guantanamo detainee and spokesman for the group Cageprisoners which campaigns on behalf of those imprisoned in the so-called “war on terror”.

Ms Sahgal explains her concerns about the group.

Transcript by earwicga

1. BBC The head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit Gita Sahgal has been suspended following her claim that the human rights group has too close a relationship with Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo detainee and spokesman for the group  Cageprisoners which campaigns on behalf of those imprisoned in the war on terror.  Gita Sahgal is on the line now.  Good morning to you
2. Gita Sahgal Good morning
3. BBC I know you can’t talk in detail about why you’ve been suspended, but do you know why; I mean have Amnesty told you exactly why?
4. Gita Sahgal I can’t talk about that, but I can tell you that I asked Amnesty International two or three questions which should have been very easily answered.  And when I say Amnesty International, I mean my own bosses, I was working inside the organisation and um er raised um perfectly legitimate questions and that was how did we come to have such a close relationship with Cageprisoners, um and how did we decide that they were a safe and proper organisation for us to work with.
5. BBC And you, you sent these emails, these requests, to people within Amnesty and you’re saying that their reaction has been to suspend you?
6. Gita Sahgal That’s correct.
7. BBC What is the substance of your er concern about Moazzam Begg?
8. Gita Sahgal You know, I I’ve been concerned about what Moazzam Begg’s um and and his organisation stands for for a long time.  But I think the issue that I really have is with my employer, because we are a human rights organisation, we make very very careful decisions about how and where we partner with people.  We have long discussions around these things, and when I spoke um to people  in my office who are experts on these matters, who um investigate um group violations, who are regional experts, who work on counter terror policy and so on, all of them said that they had recommended against this relationship.  I then asked where the decision had been made that we have such a close relationship, or whether we had just drifted into it, um and you know, whether we had any form of paperwork that would explain what we were doing and why we were doing it?  And none of that has ever been answered.     
9. BBC But, er this is a man who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.  He was not subjected to any trial, he was released in the end without charge er, he does not personally advocate violence.  Why on earth shouldn’t Amnesty be closely associated with him?
10. Gita Sahgal Because I believe that the organisation Cageprisoners has an agenda that is way beyond being a prisoner’s rights organisation. 
11. BBC And this is the organisation for which he speaks?
12. Gita Sahgal Exactly.
13. BBC Er, what do you think they do want ultimately?
14. Gita Sahgal Well yesterday I was on radio with Asim Qureshi  who er is another prominent figure in the organisation and er he said that um er well he didn’t deny when read out to him statements that he’d made er supporting global jihad, which he said was protected under international law.
15. BBC What Amnesty have said in a statement is that they consistently document and condemn abuses by the Taliban or Islamist Islamist armed groups whenever they occur, and especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
16. Gita Sahgal Amnesty International has never done any research on the networks developing in Britain or Europe or the US as far as I’m aware.  In a personal capacity I do that kind of research, and it’s slightly alarming if we don’t connect what’s happening in Afghanistan or Pakistan or many other countries to developments over here.
17. BBC Why do you think they don’t do that research?  What do you think is at the heart of it?
18. Gita Sahgal Well I think you should pose that question to them because they refuse to answer any of the questions that I’ve posed.
19. BBC But what’s your suspicion?
20. Gita Sahgal My suspicion is that they need perfect victims.  In other words we need to defend somebody who might not have done a wrong.  And I’m not saying that Moazzam Begg has, I want to make absolutely clear that I’m making no claim that he’s either committed a crime or a human rights violation, and that’s why I find the statement after statement that Amnesty International has put out in his support somewhat surprising, because the issues that I’m concerned with are addressed to Amnesty International
21. BBC But you’re making a wider point aren’t you?  That Islamic radicalism is treated what softly by liberals?
22. Gita Sahgal Something like that, but we’re not liberals, we’re a human rights organisation and we should not be falling into the traps that many people do fall into.
23. BBC Gita Sahgal, thank you very much.

There is much to comment on in this interview, and I hope to do so later.


Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2010 17:07

    Transcript linked to by Andy Newman.

    Please feel free to use the transcript in it’s entirity but remember to leave a note here.

  2. February 11, 2010 10:09

    Transcript copied by Flesh is Grass blog.

    Transcript linked to by Spittoon with the priviso “If they are anti-Sahgal, I will unlink to it.” I am not “anti-Sahgal”, but I think she is fundamentally wrong with her campaign against Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners.

    Transcript linked to by Random Blowe.

  3. May 28, 2010 17:06

    So to clarify what Ms Sahgal is suggesting above: (1) Amnesty International will only defend those who have a totally clean moral slate and moral outlook (in human rights terms) – ‘perfect vistims’; (2) Research into radical Islamic ‘networks developing in Britain or Europe or the US’ might show that Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners are not ‘perfect victims’; (3) Amnesty International wants or needs to work with MB and Cageprisoners; (4) Therefore AI does not do the research.

    But it is Ms Sahgal that evidently thinks that Moazzam Begg and those defended by Cageprisoners are not perfect enough victims to work with Amnesty – that’s what this whole affair is about. (Which seems to me an outrageous position. The universalism of human rights that is so precious to Ms Sahgal has to be extended to all – to the extent of campaigning for free and fair trails for those who turn out to be terrorists, rapists, and murderers.)

    If there is evidence that Moazzam Begg or Cageprisoners are going beyond campaigning for free and fair trials and are actively supporting those who seek to undermine others’ human rights then Ms Sahgal should not be waiting on Amnesty to find it – she should highlight the evidence herself.

    Where Ms Sahgal does allude to such evidence, it seems pretty slim. I can’t imagine that Ms Sahgal holds governments to such high standards as she expects of Cageprisoners. If she did, then she’d be demanding that Amnesty not share a platform with any British or American politicians.


  1. Andy Worthington On Amnesty, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg « Ten Percent
  2. Widney Brown speaks to the BBC regarding Gita Sahgal and human rights (with transcript) « Earwicga
  3. Pickled Politics » Amnesty, Gita Sahgal, Moazzam Begg and why they’re all wrong

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