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Updated – Gita Sahgal talks to the BBC World Service Newshour (with transcript)

February 10, 2010

BBC World Service Newshour  – Amnesty Row – 09 February 2010

Newshour speaks to Gita Sahgal, suspended from her job at Amnesty International for speaking out against what she sees as the organisation’s inappropriate support for the former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. We also hear from Asim Qureshi, the director of Cageprioners. [the audio is below the transcript]

Transcript by earwicga

1. BBC Now, to a dispute that’s been getting a lot of attention at the moment here in Britain.  It concerns the suspension of a senior official of a human rights organisation, Amnesty International.  Gita Sahgal sent out an internal email expressing concern that Amnesty was risking damaging its reputation by being seen to ally itself with Moazzam Begg.  Now, he’s a British citizen who was detained at Guantanamo Bay for three years until his release without charge in 2005.  Since then Moazzam Begg’s been accused of continuing to support the Taliban and championing the rights of jailed members of Al Qadea through the organisation Cageprisoners.  It says it works on behalf of prisoners held as part of the so called war on terror.  Well earlier I spoke to Gita Sahgal and also to Asim Qureshi who’s Executive Director of Cageprisoners. So first, why exactly had Gita Sahgal been suspended? 
2. Gita Sahgal I can only say that my suspension came a few hours after the Sunday Times article came out. 
3. BBC It relates to Moazzam Begg.  Why is he not an appropriate partner for Amnesty?  Can you tell us about that?
4. Gita Sahgal Moazzam Begg suffered very greatly in Guantanamo, and it was, and Amnesty very rightly is campaigning to close down Guantanamo.  And has campaigned for the rights of people who were locked up there, for their due process rights because Guantanamo, as we I think  all agree, is was called a human rights free zone.  There was very little, at first absolutely you know no legal access.  Eventually there was some, but there was no proper fair trial process and so on and so on.  However, when he came out of Guantanamo, I think it was legitimate to hear his experiences.  Many members had campaigned for him, but we should not have legitimised and sanitised what he stood for politically.  I think it’s perfectly ok to say         
5. BBC Which is?
6. Gita Sahgal Which is a set of ideologies that that support not just violent, violence in themselves, but also very very discriminatory behaviour.  Systematic discrimination.  I think
7. BBC Against women. 
8.   Gita Sahgal Not just women, religig, women of course.  But religious minorities, pe, Muslims that don’t agree with them, I mean any you know, if you’re not a particular kind of Muslim then you’re not a Muslim, if you’re not a Muslim then you’re an apostate, if you’re an apostate  you can get killed.  I mean there’s a, you know, there’s  a sort of lineage of this and some of the people like Anwar al Awlaki , and al Timimi [Ali al Timini] and so on, that are called reasonable people and inspiring clerics and so on, have been advocating views that are abhorrent to any kind of universality standard.
9. BBC I need to bring in Asim Qureshi at this point.  Is this a fair portrayal of Moazzam Begg and his beliefs?
10. Asim Qureshi No I don’t think so at all.  There’s nothing to suggest that Moazzam has ever espoused any views which you know would be problematic to anybody.  In fact even in his own book he often references, sorry in parts he referenced the fact that he was himself a witness to some of the abuses that took place by the Taliban.  In terms of his own actions while he was in Afghanistan he was one of the few people to actually go and try and set up a girls school while he was living in Afghanistan.  This is something that a lot of other people wouldn’t even dare to try, let alone actually carry out.  This is the type of person we’re talking about here.
11. BBC Does he actually support the concept of violent jihad?
12. Asim Qureshi I think, like the rest of us, what he supports is the right for people to exercise self-determination, and to defend themselves against oppression, occupation,
13. Gita Sahgal Is that what you supported when you were on YouTube?  At the Hizb ut-Tagrur rally calling for jihad?
14. Asim Qureshi That’s correct, I mean  look
15. BBC Let me just make that clear, I mean you are quoted as saying – it is incumbent on all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they’re facing the oppression of the West.
16.   Asim Qureshi Yeah, and I think the operative word there is oppression.  The point about this, and is something I’ve always stood by and I’ve clarified many times, that when you’re looking at situations like Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, where you’ve got  colonial domination, alien occupation and racism it is the legitimate right of anybody, as enshrined under the Geneva Conventions as well Article 1, 4 of the judicial [additional]  Protocols enshrines the right to self-determination in the face of these circumstances.  And that is what I espouse and have always espoused and that is what Cageprisoners stands for.
17. Gita Sahgal Can I just?
18. BBC Just a second
19.   Gita Sahgal come in there?  Common Article 3 also outlaws indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and the organisations and the people that you through Cageprisoners, not just in legitimate defence of their human rights and their rights to due process but their ideologies that are defended through Cageprisoners, the people who are being defended, who you defend, actually have supported attacks on,  the systematic discrimination against minorities      
20. Asim Qureshi Well, I mean again
21. Gita Sahgal I think the point I want to get across is that I have a view on Cageprisoners and actually I’m not, it’s not so much that I’m interested debating it with Asim Qureshi, he obviously has his views on his organisation.  What, the questions I raised with my organisation were how we had come to such a close relationship with Cageprisoners, when there has been as far as I can discover a weight of expert evidence within the organisation that would have advised against it and had advised against it.  I believe that I have an obligation to understand how a relationship that I think is fundamentally damaging came about, and really I would be very willing as you have generously offered, to meet you to discuss what it is, so for you to put on record, because I understand when the Sunday Times Journalist spoke to you, you said Amnesty came to you.  Is that correct?    
22. Asim Qureshi Actually, our initial contact I remember between Cageprisoners and Amnesty was in 2005 when we took part in a conference that Reprieve organised with them, and I’m not aware, I can’t remember whether it was Amnesty that invited us to take part or whether it was Reprieve, but we work
23. BBC That’s the legal rights organisation?
24.   Asim Qureshi That’s right.  It’s a legal charity that also represents people on death row and watches* the war on terror.  In terms of our relationship, the relationship is very simple.  At Cageprisoners we advocate on behalf of those who are detained as part of the war on terror.  People who have not been given due process.  On occasion that includes people who might be considered unsavoury, and even people that we disagree with ourselves in terms of ideologically.  It just so happens that often that mission also links in with Amnesty’s as well.  And Amnesty respects that.[*this word is very unclear so I can’t be sure that it is watches]
25. BBC But just to be clear, you don’t have a sort of formal link to the organisation?
26. Asim Qureshi Other than the fact that
27. BBC I mean there’s nothing in writing for example?
28. Gita Sahgal [one or two words which are inaudible]
29. Asim Qureshi Yeah, there’s nothing in writing of course, I mean we just collaborate sometimes on joint projects. 
30. BBC But you do campaign on the same platform.
31. Gita Sahgal Do you call yourself a human rights organisation?
32. Asim Qureshi Yes we do.
33. Gita Sahgal Yes.  And Amnesty’s websites have called Cageprisoners a human rights organisation.  So that is not a human rights organisation
34. BBC Well, I’m just wondering  how human rights fits into Cageprisoners support for Anwar al Awlaki who’s the cleric who you know who supported the recent massacre at the Fort Hood air base in the United States.  He described it as heroic.  That doesn’t sound like human rights.
35. Asim Qureshi Let me be clear that Cageprisoners from its very inception has unequivocally condemned attacks on innocent civilians.  Anwar al Awlaki is an individual who was detained without charge or trial in Yemen and
36. Gita Sahgal But, he’s somebody you call reasonable, and I have listened to speeches of his which young people are listening to which actually lay out a programme of systematic discrimination.  You know.  And I think that it is very dangerous if somebody reaches an Amnesty website, then reaches Cageprisoners through an Amnesty website and then from Cageprisoners finds Anwar al Awlaki where he’s setting out what he believes a proper Muslim should be.  
37. Asim Qureshi I think most people are discerning enough to figure out things for themselves.
38. BBC Well, maybe at this point it’s a good time to just say what Amnesty International have told us.  They didn’t want to take part in this discussion but they have said they utterly refute the accusations in the newspaper article alleging that the organisation has a link to the Taliban through its work with Moazzam Begg.  Such allegation, Amnesty says, isn’t based on facts.  They point out that Moazzam Begg was released without charge from Guantanamo and has never been tried or convicted for any terrorism related offences.  Amnesty works with him as a victim of the human rights violations he suffered in the US detention centre.
39. Asim Qureshi I think that’s a very fair assessment. 
40. BBC But Gita, what do you want Amnesty to do?  How will it sever, if it says it doesn’t have a link, how can it sever its association with an organisation like Cageprisoners?
41. Gita Sahgal Amnesty International has been very closely associated with Moazzam Begg.  He’s one of their key speakers on the issue of Guantanamo to such an extent, that whether the policy department has called him a human rights defender or not, most people would think that he does defend human rights universally.    
42. BBC What’s the next step for you?  Has anything you’ve heard today reassured you about Amnesty and Cageprisoners?
43. Gita Sahgal No, I’m not at all reassured and I feel profoundly unsafe I have to say talking to Asim Qureshi and Moazzam Begg, but I’m more than willing to meet them.
44. BBC Gita Sahgal and Asim Qureshi

H/T for link to audio on the BBC site Jolene Tan

Thanks to RickB of Tenpercent for providing the YouTube video.

Related: 

Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup

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