CLOSE DOWN GUANTANAMO! – Amnesty week of action

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Amnesty protesters as ‘Guantanamo prisoners’ opposite Downing Street
Amnesty protesters as ‘Guantanamo prisoners’ opposite Downing Street

Last Saturday, 16 December, 2006 marked the start of a series of protests across the world with renewed calls on the US government to close the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp.

Amnesty International said in a statement on Saturday: ‘In January 2002, the US authorities transferred the first “war on terror” detainees – hooded and shackled – to the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

‘Despite major international outcry and expert condemnation, hundreds of people of more than 30 nationalities continue to be held there: without charge, and with little hope of obtaining a fair trial.

‘Though US authorities have repeatedly called the detainees “terrorists” and “killers”, many have been released without charge.

‘US official investigators and detainees have reported torture and other ill-treatment, and the conditions of detention remain inhumane.

‘Enough is enough!

‘Guantánamo detainees must be released immediately unless they are to be charged and given a fair trial.’

In London, an eight-man ‘Guantánamo chain gang’ dressed in orange boiler suits with blindfold goggles and face-masks walked from parliament to hold a protest opposite Downing Street.

They were met by relatives of British residents imprisoned at the US prison camp.

There are at least eight UK residents held in Guantánamo and the British government has refused to intercede on the men’s behalf.

A letter delivered to 10, Downing Street by an Amnesty representative and relatives of the detainees, said prime minister Blair ‘has the key’ to the men’s release.

Amani Deghayes, the sister of detainee Omar Deghayes, a law student from Brighton, told News Line outside Downing Street: ‘We handed in a letter to Number 10 to renew our demand for the government to do something about the British residents still held in Guantánamo.

‘My brother has been there almost five years now.

‘In the last court case, the government was saying that the reason they can’t accept the men into the UK is they are not dangerous enough to devote the amount of security resources that the Americans want them to.

‘Ironically, if they were considered more dangerous then they would merit that amount of security resources.

‘So the British government’s attitude means the men are being left to rot in Guantánamo.

‘I personally found it shocking that three sane judges would accept that it is a good enough reason for them not to do more.

‘We just want the prime minister to do something more pro-active for these men now.

‘I’m sick of hearing officials condemning Guantánamo for breaching human rights to make themselves look good but not actively doing anything about which they can do.

‘Now the US government are saying they want to hand them over to the UK, the British government should act upon that.

‘They seem to be able to find the resources for one detainee who has links to MI5 but they don’t want to treat all of them the same.’

Speaking about the protest, Steve Ballinger from Amnesty told News Line: ‘We’re here to highlight the plight of eight UK residents still held without charge or trial in Guantánamo Bay.

‘The British government must do more to help free them.

‘Some of these men are refugees who have been in the UK for 25 years.

‘They have homes and families here and they have no-one but the British government to stand up for them.

‘Instead they are being left to rot by the prime minster.

‘Tony Blair has a moral obligation to help bring them home.’

Glenn Williams and Sally Griffiths, Brighton anti-war and human rights activists, last Saturday began walking from Brighton to London to demand that Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett allows Guantánamo detainee, UK resident Omar Deghayes, home to Brighton.

The walk began from Brighton Pier to arrive at the Foreign Office tomorrow, Tuesday 19 December.

Supporters of the Save Omar campaign gave Glenn and the other walkers a good send off by walking the first few miles with him.

They gathered at Brighton Pier at 8.30am on Saturday and walked north towards the Level and then along the Ditchling Road.

Supporters will also greet Glenn to walk the last few miles with him to the Foreign Office.

Brighton Amnesty says: ‘The United States authorities have agreed, albeit conditionally, to release Omar but the British government have refused to allow him home.

‘Over the last few months Brighton people have written hundreds of letters and sent a thousand postcards to Beckett and received only one reply, a letter to Brighton and Hove City Councillor Francis Tonks refusing a meeting between Omar’s family, his supporters and representatives of the Foreign Office. 

‘We cannot just accept these undemocratic dismissals and must now make our demands heard by as many people as possible so they cannot be just shelved and filed by civil servants.

‘It is now known that at least eight men from the UK are among more than 400 people of around 35 nationalities held without charge at the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terror”.’

In October 2006, it emerged that the USA has offered to return nearly all UK residents held at Guantánamo Bay to the UK, but the UK government has refused to accept the men.

l More than 10,000 people attended events across Australia from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 December 2006, calling on the Australian Government to bring Guantánamo detainee David Hicks home.

Rallies, candlelight vigils, film screenings and campaign stalls were held in all states and territories of Australia. 

David Hicks is an Australian national detained in Guantánamo Bay since January 2002.

Amnesty International Australia says: ‘The Australian government has been resoundingly deaf to his plight.

‘These events marked the five years that Australian David Hicks has been held in detention at Guantánamo Bay without any prospect of a fair trial, and to protest the five years of failed leadership by the Australian Government to defend the rights of one of its own.

‘Signatures for the Bring David Hicks Home petition were also collected at the events.’

Katie Wood, Amnesty International Australia’s Human Rights and Security Campaign Coordinator, was one of the speakers at the public rally in Adelaide on 9 December.

‘David Hicks must be brought home to face the Australian justice system and if there are no grounds or evidence to prosecute him, he must be released,’ Katie told the hundreds of people gathered at the rally.

More than 26,000 people who, around the world, have already signed up to Amnesty International’s on-line action, which calls on Prime Minister John Howard to bring David Hicks home to face a fair trial or be released.