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End this internment now

Saturday December 13, 2003
The Guardian

It has now been two years since the home secretary decided to subject a number of foreign nationals "suspected of terrorism" to internment without trial (Blunkett threat to quit Amnesty, December 12). These people have been taken from their families and detained in high security institutions with neither charge nor knowledge of when (if ever) their detention might end.

Further, the home secretary refuses to rule out reliance upon material obtained by torture around the world in his decisions about who is detained. Meanwhile British nationals - including those "suspected of terrorism" - properly retain their rights to a fair trial. This internment offends every notion of justice, equal treatment of people and the rule of law. It sets a terrible example for other states and provides ammunition for those who seek to present our way of life as hypocritical and corrupt.

In the light of Amnesty International's damning report relating to this policy and the secret processes surrounding it, we call on the home secretary to end this scandal now. The detained men must be charged and given a fair trial or released without delay.

Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby
Bishop of Worcester and Bishop to HM Prisons

Rt Rev John Oliver
Bishop of Hereford

Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson
Bishop of Portsmouth

Rt Rev Richard Lewis
Bishop of Ipswich

Rt Rev Colin Bennetts
Bishop of Coventry

Rt Rev David Stancliffe
Bishop of Salisbury

Rev David Coffey
General secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain

Rev Dr Colin Morris
Former head of BBC religious broadcasting

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui
Leader, Muslim Parliament

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
Chairperson, Liberal Judaism Rabbinic Conference

Matthias Kelly
Chairman of Bar Council

Peter Carter
Chairman of the Bar human rights committee

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty UK

Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty

Steve Crawshaw
Human Rights Watch

Malcolm Smart
Medical Foundation for the care of Victims of Torture

Some 16 people have been held without trial at Belmarsh prison since December 2001 (Letters, December 11). It is wise to remember how internment in Northern Ireland simply recruited more people for the terrorist cause and prolonged that conflict. Practising injustice merely perpetrates greater injustice and suffering.

Paul Donovan

Your shocking expose of abuse in Wormwood Scrubs (Brutality of prison officers exposed, December 11) underscores the need for the prison service and individual prisons to become more open and accountable. We are now concerned that children in prison are held in strip conditions, can be physically restrained by adult staff, which has resulted in broken limbs, and are routinely placed in segregation cells. The prison service must introduce a policy of public interest immunity, a charter for whistleblowers, to encourage staff, visitors and voluntary organisations to complain when they witness any wrongdoing.

Frances Crook
Director, Howard League for Penal Reform

The conditions in Wormwood Scrubs between 1995 and 1999 merit a full public inquiry. The government is considering plans to reorganise the prison inspectorate.

There has been no public consultation. Without it, there is the suspicion that ministers could be drawn towards a structure that affords apparent efficiency with minimal discomfort. A robust, independent prisons inspectorate is vital in guaranteeing close scrutiny of our least visible and, arguably, the most neglected of our public services.

Geoff Dobson
Prison Reform Trust




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