Re-instate Gita Sahgal

February 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm (Civil liberties, Free Speech, Human rights, Rosie B)

Crossposted from Stroppyblog:-

Below is a statement by Gita (pictured on the left at last years 20th anniversary of WAF) :

Amnesty International and Cageprisoners

Statement by Gita Sahgal

7 February 2010

This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.

Link to The Times article .

Link to the statement by Amnesty .

To be fair to all parties in this,and to allow a proper debate, below is Moazzam Begg’s response to the Sunday Times article, a letter he has written :

The Sunday Times

Dear Mr. Kerbaj,

Your Article: ‘Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link’

I was shocked and extremely disappointed to see your article in today’s Sunday Times make no reference at all to the questions you so ardently sought to have answered (as mentioned below) and, that I explained to you in some detail in our telephone conversation yesterday.
Your headline makes a serious accusation: that it proves to expose a tangible link between Amnesty and the Taliban. Can I ask exactly who in the Taliban you are referring to that is either linked to Amnesty or me?

It seems very odd that your article, which is entirely about Amnesty’s relationships with me, carries very little in the way of responses from me which you so clearly went out of your way to seek. Why is that?

When asked about the nature of my relationship with Amnesty you make no mention of my response: that I work very closely with them and that it stretches back to the time that Amnesty worked with my father when I was in Guantanamo.

I told you clearly that if you wanted to know my (and Cageprisoners’) views about Awlaki to refer to the article that is on our website: in which you could have quoted, had you wished, the following:

“Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.” This article also deals with any concerns about the recent Christmas day plot – something you asked us about.

When asked specifically about the Taliban I told you my view: that I have advocated for engagement and dialogue with the Taliban well before our own government took the official position of doing the same – only last week – although, I did not say, like the government, we should be giving them lots of money in order to do so.

I also clearly told you, though you deliberately chose to ignore, that I had actually witnessed what I believe were human rights abuses under the Taliban and have detailed them in my book, from which you conveniently and selectively quote. I added that the US administration had perpetrated severe human rights abuses against me for years but that didn’t mean I opposed dialogue with them. I even told you that Cageprisoners and I have initiated pioneering steps in that regard by organising tours all around the UK with former US guards from Guantanamo and men who were once imprisoned there. Cagreprisoners is the only organisation to have done so. (One of these soldiers, upon in response to your article sent this message to me: They are attacking you and your causes…don’t forget you have real support by some of us ex-Soldiers who have seen the light… I expect he too will be accused by your likes of being brainwashed by me). Instead, you simply say, without qualification, ‘He defended his support for the Taliban….’

Had you – and Ms Sahgal no doubt – done your homework properly you’d have discovered also that I was involved in the building of, setting up and running of a school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, but of course, that wouldn’t have sat well with the agenda and nature of your heavily biased and poorly researched article.

In relation to MS. Sahgal, I told you – and you were fully aware – that I appeared on a BBC Radio 4 show, Hecklers, alongside her, Tariq Ramadan, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Tahmina Saleem (ISB) and Daud Abdullah (MCB). I told you that her analysis of the situation on this programme was so poor and skewed that she referred to all of us as ‘partners of the government in the war against terror’ until I reminded I was sitting on the panel.

I told you too that I have never since spoken to Ms. Sahgal and that if she had any concerns about my work she has never put them to me and that I found it most odd that she found it more appropriate to discuss this in the media first. Again, had you done your research properly you’d have made some reference to our first meeting on Radio 4 where I iterated that the way to solve conflicts can be found in the Northern Ireland model (engaging with ‘terrorists). I have engaged in several such initiatives, some of them hosted by Amnesty, asking people to look at this episode as a place to find solutions. Bizarrely, Ms. Sahgal, through her argument, seemed to reject this view. Whilst it gives me no personal pleasure to hear of the suspension of Ms. Sahgal for holding her view the newspapers were not the right place to air them without first putting them to Cageprisoners or me.

You had also interviewed my colleague, Asim Qureshi, but again failed to mention anything thing he said to you in relation to the work of Cageprisoners and our relationship with Amnesty International.

To conclude, I believe your article, is written in a style clearly designed, intentionally or by negligence, to damage our relationship with human rights organisations and discredit the work we do in advocating for the rights of those who have suffered terrible human rights abuses. As such, I have referred your article to your editor and the Press Complaints Commission as a formal and major complaint and, to my lawyers to pursue legal action.

Moazzam Begg
Cageprisoners Ltd


Support Gita here.


  1. Red Maria said,

    I think Moazzam Begg’s reputation is seriously damaged by his association with such a creepy organisation as Amnesty International.

    Incidentally, I wonder how much Ms Saghal was paid by Amnesty. And how much does Kate Allen make from the racket? I should imagine she’s well compensated for her activities as Amnesty director.

    I’ve seen at first hand Amnesty’s slick press team in action as well as its very plush Shoreditch London HQ which must be an expensive peice of real estate, I must say.

    But wander into the toilets and what did you see? A couple of African men taking mops out of buckets and dutifully scrubbing away. I wonder whether they were on the Amnesty payroll or heh heh heh, agency workers.

    Amnesty International Charity limited, income in the last financial year: £20,290,000.

    Amnesty International UK Section Charitable Trust, income in the last financial year: £12,458,138.

    Some of that must cover its hospitality expenses. The wine and canapes were as good as those served up at city fund manager parties.

  2. Daveinstokenewington said,

    Rosie, thanks for that. Gita has now set up a website :

  3. Stroppybird said,

    Oops, that was me, not Dave .

  4. Jim Denham said,

    As a member of Amnesty International and regular financial contributor, I shall cancel my direct debit unless Gita is re-instated withinin a reasonable period of time, and Amnesty breaks any links it may have with *any* organisations and individuals (not just Begg) shown, after full and fair investigation, to be in any way symapthetic to the Taliban or any other form of fascism. I shall be writing to Amnesty to protest and I suggest others do the same:

    PS: here’s what I’ve sent them:

    Dear Amnesty,

    As a member and regular financial contributor to Amnesty, I am writing to express my concerns over:

    1/ The suspension of Gita Sahgal;

    2/ The suggestion that Anesty is supporting groups and individuals (specifically Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cageprisoners) allegedly sympathetic to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other ultra-reactionary/fascistic Islamists like Anwar al-Awlaki.

    Unless Ms Sahgal is re-instated within a reasonable period of time, and there is a full investigation into the allegations of Islamist ultra-right links (and – if proven – those links are immediately severed), then I for one will cancel my direct debit, and advise all other Amnesty members and donors to do the same.


    Jim Denham

  5. Stroppybird said,

    Update, Gita is a crank and WAF a group of nutty women …that from Islamaphobia Watch !

  6. resistor said,

    Denham’s warning reminds me of, “Let the Czar of Russia be warned, the eyes of the Skibbereen Eagle are upon him.”

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Of course the Czar *was* eventually brought down. Not of course by the Skibbereen Eagle, but by Marxists who were also ridiculed as having mad pretentions that widely exceeded their power and influnce:

    ‘Once while walking, Leo Tolstoy spotted in the distance the figure of a man squatting and gesturing strangely; a madman, he thought – but on drawing nearer he was satisfied that the man was attending to necessary work, sharpening a knife on a stone. Lenin was fond of citing this example.’
    Tony Cliff (Ygael Gluckstein)- Lenin Vol 1.

  8. resistor said,

    The Czar was forced to abdicate by Kerensky’s Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks ‘brought him down’ using bullets. I would have thought a soi-disant ‘Marxist’ would have at least a rudimentary grasp of the history of the revolutions of 1917.

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Your point being…?
    Best to stick to what you’re good at -anti-semitism- rather than Bolshevik history.

  10. Stroppybird said,


  11. voltairespriest said,

    Of course Saghal should be reinstated. Everyone who writes this blog, I think, would agree with that in spite of our differing politics.

    As for Islamophobia Watch… well you’re too nice to say it Stropps so I will – fuck ’em.

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      It would help if you said why Gita should be reinstated. I can imagine loads of reasons why, (including admitting to the fact that she did speak out against the behaviour of her employers}.

      That issue is separate from the truth of what she said. Am I to disbelieve Moazzam Begg?

  12. Stroppybird said,

    Me too nice !!

    I think I more or less said that in my post.

  13. maxdunbar said,

    Yep. What the AI bosses and their defenders don’t seem to understand is that Moazzam Begg can be a victim of injustice and at the same time a Taliban enthusiast who no human rights group should have anything to do with.

  14. Wot Evah said,

    Well, I’m with Amnesty on this one. It seems that Ms Sahgal, having lost the argument within her the organisation about their joint work with cage prisoners, decided to go public with her protest despite the potentially negative ramifications for Amnesty (e.g. the Times insinuating that they are linked to the Taliban). Of course, Ms Sahgal is perfectly at liberty to do so, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to her or anybody else that Amnesty don’t wish to work with her if she engages in activities detrimental to their work.

    Furthermore, her reference to Begg as the “country’s most famous supporter of the Taliban” seems to be hyperbole at best if not an outright slur. How exactly is Begg currently “supporting” the Taliban? What’s the smoking gun? If the best you’ve got is “in 1998 he wrote…” then I’m not interested.

  15. socialrepublican said,

    “Kerensky’s Provisional Government”

    There wasn’t such a thing as a Provisional Government at the abdication. Just the Duma.

    Kerensky, at the very least, claimed to be a Marxist and wasn’t the Provisional Government’s head till mid summer

    The Tsar was convinced to step down after the Stavka told him the troops tasked with retaking Petrograd from its population were increasingly unreliable

    There was no formal or party leadership of the Febuary uprising, it was unexpected on all sides.

  16. Jim Denham said,

    Lobby asks: “Am I to disbelieve Moazzam Begg?” We don’t know the truth for sure at the moment, but I see no particular reason why the answer to that question shouldn’t be “Yes.”

    Are we to disbelieve Gita Sahgal?

  17. Wot Evah said,

    “Lobby asks: “Am I to disbelieve Moazzam Begg?” We don’t know the truth for sure at the moment, but I see no particular reason why the answer to that question shouldn’t be “Yes.”

    Are we to disbelieve Gita Sahgal?”

    Mmmm, interesting line of reasoning. Normally an accusation is made on the basis of some sort of evidence. Apparently with Begg we’re to supposed to assume he’s guilty until some evidence is adduced to the contrary. Is it cos of his beard?

  18. Jim Denham said,

    Wot: if I didn’t make myself clear in comment #16 above, I’m sorry. Please re-read my comment: what I’m saying is that I *don’t know* whether Begg is telling the truth or not (when he denies Taliban and other fascistic sympathies and/or links)…but neither does Lobby, to whom the comment is directed. When Lobby asks “Am I to disbelieve Moazzam Begg?” as though such scepticism is unthinkable, I’m simply replying, in effect, “why not”?

    I then make the point that if you assume from the outset that Begg’s telling the (whole) truth, then you must also assume that Gita Sahgai isn’t. That she’s either lying or has got it wrong.

    There’s no assumption of guilt from me: merely questions that need answering and opposition to an unnecessaary and precipitate suspension of an employee by Amnesty.

  19. Sarah B said,

    I’m in sympathy with the general point raised in the post but at the same time think Wot Evah has a point when s/he says that “her reference to Begg as the “country’s most famous supporter of the Taliban” seems to be hyperbole at best”. Of course there’s lots of middle ground between being ‘the country’s most famous supporter of the Taliban’ and being the kind of person AI should, not just support as a victim of injustice, but work with quite extensively.

  20. Eben said,

    I would suggest that cancelling your membership of Amnesty would be the wrong way to deal with this, given that it gives you a vote and the right to submit motions to the AGM in a few months time.

  21. Jim Denham said,

    Point taken, Eben.

  22. Jim Denham said,

    I’ve just recieved this rather unsatisfactory email from Amnesty:

    Dear Mr Denham

    Thank you for your e-mail regarding the controversy in the media surrounding Amnesty International’s work with Moazzam Begg, in light of statements by Gita Sahgal, an Amnesty International staff member. I am sorry to hear that you are thinking of cancelling your membership.

    Please allow me to explain the situation.

    Contrary to Gita Sahgal’s assertions to the media, she was not suspended from Amnesty International for raising these issues internally. In fact we actively welcome vigorous internal debate. Up to now we have maintained confidentiality in line with our policy but wanted to correct this misrepresentation. This is not a reflection on the organisation’s respect for her work as a women’s rights activist and does not undermine the work she has done over the last few years as the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit. Please note also that Gita Sahgal has not been sacked. She has been suspended pending an internal investigation.

    Our work with Moazzam Begg has focused exclusively on highlighting the human rights violations committed in Guantánamo Bay and the need for the US government to shut it down and either release or put on trial those who have been held there. Moazzam Begg was one of the first detainees released by the US without charge, and has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial.

    When President Obama promised to close Guantánamo, Amnesty International hoped that we could wind down our campaign and focus more broadly on human rights abuses related to security and terrorism. However, as that promise remains unmet, Amnesty International continues to work with Moazzam Begg and other former detainees to ask European governments to accommodate those who cannot be returned to their country of citizenship without risk of torture or ill-treatment.

    In this complex and polarised world we at Amnesty International face the challenge of communicating clearly the scope of our work with individuals and groups. Amnesty International champions and continues to champion Moazzam Begg’s rights as a former detainee at Guantánamo. He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

    Amnesty International has a long history of demanding justice – in the case of our Counter Terror with Justice Campaign we called for both an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and called for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respected due process.

    However, our work for justice and human rights spans a far wider range of issues than counter-terrorism and security. Amnesty International has done considerable research on the Taleban and campaigns to stop violence against women and to promote women’s equality. We continue to take a strong line against abuses by religiously-based insurgent groups and/or governments imposing religious strictures, Islamic or otherwise, in violation of human rights law. Sometimes the people whose rights we defend may not share each others views – but they all have human rights, and all human rights are worth defending.

    Thank you for taking the time to send in your views. I hope that this statement along with the latest comments from our website (link below) will explain our position.

    Kind regards

    Paul Snowdon
    Supporter Care Team
    Amnesty International UK
    Tel: 020 7033 1777

  23. Wot Evah said,

    All seems fair enough. This whole affair has made me want to join Amnesty more than ever (if anything because Hitchens, Cohen and other similar scum are denouncing it – pretty much the best endorsement it could have for me).

  24. brian said,

    a bit late, but Moazzam Begg has been supporting the jihadis in their war on syria, as can be seen in his cageprisoners site

    Saghal was right to be suspicious of begg

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