Tag Archives: Lord West of Spithead

Lord West is Once Again Delusional

Now Home Office minister Lord West is getting into the act of defending the Metropolitan Police:

Lord West, speaking in the House of Lords, said “thousands of officers acted absolutely professionally and proportionately, thousands were actually able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, criminal activity in the rest of the metropolis was kept to an absolute minimum and the police also maintained high levels of security.

“And I think we should be extremely proud of them. This does not excuse acts which are criminal and there are now investigations taking place for those particulars.

“But in general I think we are very well-served by our police. I am very proud of them and the way I approach it generally is they are on our side and they are our people.”

He also defended British police tactics of confronting protesters face-to-face, arguing alternative crowd control methods were worse.

He told peers: “I have to say I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people all of which seem to occur in some other countries and I am jolly glad I live in this country. But all of those things will be looked at.”

Thousands were indeed able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, and the climate camp protesters in particular were initially well served by the Met. Until they had their heads smashed in by the Territorial Support Group (TSG) shock troops later on. It’s not surprising that his perspective on the G20 policing should be skewed though – this is the same Lord West who said of the Home Office’s attempt to deport gay asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi back to Iran:

My Lords, it is worth saying that we are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.

So he really is living in a parallel universe to the rest of us. There seems to be a lot of that going about in the Home Office. Nice of him to suggest we’re ungrateful for failing to appreciate that we don’t face worse policing though. We should be grateful for a mere police beating here and there then apparently.

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And What Of Mehdi Kazemi?

He’s conspicuous by his absence, isn’t he? Mehdi Kazemi is still in Rotterdam, awaiting deportation back to the UK under the Dublin Treaty, where Home Secretary Jacqui Smith still hasn’t granted him asylum. It appears that a Dutch MP has secured a parliamentary debate in the Netherlands to take place tomorrow, because he doesn’t believe Jacqui Smith can be trusted with his safety. Given that their Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the Dublin Treaty supersedes Holland’s policy of not deporting gay asylum seekers back to Iran at all, it’s regrettable that his tactic looks likely to have little effect on the case, other than to lengthen Mehdi’s period of detention.

On the other hand, following on from a group of peers in the House of Lords publicly clamouring against his deportation to Iran and for an end to any deportations of asylum seekers to Iran, a group of MPs from all parties are doing likewise. Hopefully his support throughout the European Union will now make a deportation politically impossible for Smith, who has recently defended her department’s competence in this matter, despite its shortcomings, failings and institutional homophobia being widely acknowledged.

We should keep in mind as well the complicated attitudes which are driving the controversy about his fate. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch asserts that there have been no executions in Iran for just homosexuality since 2005. In this he is making the same two dangerous assumptions which George Galloway, Lord West of Spithead and others have made: that the Iranian theocratic regime can be believed when secondary charges like ‘child rape’ get added, and that the homosexuality of victims of Iranian state executions can’t be substantiated. This is a nonsense which even the Iranian regime doesn’t try to conceal, and which is well documented by Doug Ireland. And any of you still unsure about whether the famous executions of gay teens Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni (warning: link to strong images of their hanging) were based on any ‘legitimate’ grounds, please read this article. Why Long and especially the British Home Office can’t do such basic research themselves is beyond me.

Britain’s Asylum System is ‘Inhuman’

It’s not just the Independent Asylum Commission which has said Britain’s treatment of asylum seekers is below what’s expected of a civilised society, now the House of Lords is getting in on the act. With Mehdi Kazemi’s safety still not guaranteed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and another Home Office Minister showing shameful levels of complete ignorance about the way in which Iran justifies its systematic murder of gay people, a group of peers is publicly calling for no further deportations of ‘failed’ asylum seekers to Iran, a hard-fought right finally won in the Netherlands.

Jacqui Smith said, in an earlier reply to peers protesting at the government’s treatment of Mehdi:

“The Home Office Country of Origin Information Service closely monitors the human rights situation in all the countries that generate asylum-seekers to the UK, including Iran. It provides accurate, objective, sourced and up-to-date information.”

She added “The published Country Reports are updated on a rolling basis and are compiled from a wide range of external information sources including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees World Health Organisation, human rights organisations, news media and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“The current Home Office Iran Country Report was published on 31 January 2008 and includes a specific section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons.”

Yet Peter Tatchell has pointed out, the Home Office offers:

  • No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
  • No explicit official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
  • No action to stamp out the abuse of LGBT refugees in UK asylum detention camps
  • No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of LGBT people in violently homophobic countries
  • No access to adequate legal representation for LGBT asylum applicants

And with the IAC highlighting three particular areas of concern:

the use of detention centres, especially to hold children, pregnant women and torture victims; the often brutal handling of removals; and the use of destitution as a tool to drive claimants out of the country

it then shouldn’t be a surprise to see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office says that the government is:

“not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”

Yet how could it be then that a mere journalist has proven it and a rights campaigner could have it available for free public consumption? And doesn’t Doug Ireland’s work sort of make a further mockery of Lin Homer, Head of the Border and Immigration Agency’s assertion that:

“The claims made in this report are not based on any thorough knowledge. I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion.”

However the Commission took testimonies from former home secretaries, policy makers, charities, asylum seekers, police, local authorities, and citizens, so how could a conclusion on the system’s inhumanity be based on ‘no thorough knowledge’? The Borders and Immigration Agency really doesn’t treat applicants without care and compassion? Peter Tatchell can break that argument in one article.

The rebellious Lords say that this is:

“not simply a legal matter but a moral one too… when we are making decisions of life or death, we must be aware of the human consequences of the cold letter of the law.”

Indeed. When the law denies legal aid, when it promotes destitution, the forcing of children into care, and when government policy for gay people advises merely to exercise ‘discretion’ in order to avoid persecution, they’re probably right, aren’t they?

Britain must match Holland’s moratorium on sending gay asylum seekers back to Iran to a certain death now. It’s a relief to see that the  commission set up to oversee the asylum independently has identified the inhuman realities of the system, but given that the Borders and Immigration Agency has refuted its findings, there must be surely little hope of any immediate change to a system now fully geared to failing those most in need.