Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Faced with mounting pressure to clarify its links with the suspected pro-jihadi group, Cageprisoners, founded by Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner and self-confessed admirer of the Taliban, Amnesty International on Wednesday said it had no “long-term” plans to work with it.

Sources hinted at a review of Amnesty’s future relationship with Mr. Begg after an internal inquiry which is looking into the issue gives its findings.

Officially, however, it defended its work with Mr. Begg.

“Any suggestion that Amnesty International’s work with Moazzam Begg or Cageprisoners has weakened our condemnation of abuses by the Taliban or other similarly-minded groups does not withstand scrutiny,” it said in a statement.

The statement came as Amnesty was accused of “stonewalling” questions about its links with Cageprisoners. Gita Sahgal, former head of its gender unit, said Amnesty’s association with the group “legitimised” the “violent and discriminatory ideology” of its activists.

Ms. Sahgal, a seasoned rights campaigner and daughter of novelist Nayantara Sahgal, was suspended by Amnesty earlier this week after she was reported as saying that it risked damaging its reputation by “collaborating” with right-wing Islamic elements in the name of defending human rights.

In a BBC interview, Asim Qureshi, a prominent Cageprisoners activist, affirmed his support for global jihad when confronted with his remarks at a rally of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an extremist group, which is banned in a number of countries.

Ms. Sahgal, who also appeared in the interview, said she did not believe Cageprisoners was just a prisoners’ rights organisation.

“An organisation may be called Hindu human rights and protect persecuted Hindus in one area while supporting the killing of Muslims elsewhere,” she said pointing to Cageprisoners’ links with extremist preachers such as Anwar- al Awlaki, a Yemeni scholar, who is said to have “inspired” a number of alleged terrorists.

Ms. Sahgal told The Hindu: “Mr. Qureshi did not refute these statements, entering into an explanation instead of Anwar- al Awlaki’s background. He said he had condemned 9/11 but was arrested after that. He said people could make up their own minds.”

Cageprisoners was formed by Mr. Begg after his release from Guantanamo Bay where, he says, he was tortured. Its high-profile campaign for the closure of the detention centre and rehabilitation of its inmates is backed by Amnesty. Mr. Begg, who spent three years in Guantanamo Bay, has acknowledged his support for the Taliban but denied links with the al-Qaeda or any terror group.

Amnesty stand

Meanwhile, an Amnesty spokesperson said Ms. Sahgal was “not suspended for raising her concerns 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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.