Pressure on Amnesty International to snap its links with a reactionary Muslim group increased on Sunday after another of its senior officials accused it of not doing enough to dissociate itself from the group’s pro-jihadi views.
Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi echoed concerns raised by former colleague Gita Sahgal that Amnesty was risking its reputation by making common cause with Cageprisoners, formed by Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, to highlight the plight of terror suspects in American custody.
Ms. Sahgal was suspended as head of Amnesty’s gender unit after she went public with her disquiet over its backing for Mr. Begg, whom she described as Britain’s “most famous supporter of Taliban.”
Mr. Zarifi was reported as saying in an internal memo that Amnesty had failed to distinguish between the rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners and the validity of Mr. Begg’s jihadi leanings.
“We should be clear that some of Amnesty’s campaigning…did not always sufficiently distinguish between the rights of detainees to be free from torture and the validity of their views….We did not always clarify that while we champion the rights of all — including terrorism suspects, and more important, victims of terrorism — we do not champion their views,” he said in “leaked” memo extracts which were published by The Sunday Times.
Prominent figures in Cageprisoners have been accused of links with extremist preachers such as Anwar-al Awlaki, a Yemeni scholar who is said to have “inspired” a number of alleged terrorists.
One leading Cageprisoners activist Asim Qureshi publicly acknowledged his support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an extremist group, in a BBC interview.
Ms. Sahgal, a leading rights campaigner and daughter of novelist Nayantara Sahgal, said she had always opposed illegal detention and torture of Guantanamo prisoners and had been “horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Mr. Begg.”
“The issue is not about Mr. Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views…. 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,” she said.
Amnesty has ordered an internal inquiry and hinted that it might review its relationship with Cageprisoners, but Ms. Sahgal is sceptical.
“The signs are that there won’t be [a review],” she said.