Monday, July 28, 2008


Had a very useful meeting with the Director Mark Ashurst and Researcher Aoiffe O'Brien of the Africa Research Institute. Mark Ashurst had just returned from Tanzania, where he said the Parliament was doing useful work in highlighting allegations of corruption against former President Benjamin Mkapa and other senior members of the ruling CCM party.

It was very sad to hear today that my old friend and colleague Russell Johnston had died in Paris. The last conversation I had with him about three weeks ago he said he was feeling tired after treatment for cancer of the bone marrow, but the doctors had told him this was natural and he would find that he would gradually regain his strength. He must have been feeling a bit better to have gone to Paris, and another friend said he thought Russell had had a stroke. e certainly will miss him.

JW beat me 2-0 at ping pong both yesterday and today, so I'm now only one game ahead at 83-82.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ahmadiyya Convention

Our TomTom said it would take an hour and 19 minutes to drive to the Ahmadiyya site in Hampshire where they have their annual convention, the Jalsa Solana, but with roadworks, an accident on the A3, and my unfamiliarity with the TomTom it took three hours. The event is a huge feat of organisation, with dozens of marquees and temporary roadways, catering for several thousand attendees from the Ahmadiyya Janaats all over the world. The Khalifa announced new milestones of achievement, both religious and charitable: mosques, schools, hospitals built, and continued growth in the numbers of adherents. The main guests were asked to speak, and I spent a few minutes on recent instances of persecution and harassment of the Ahmadis in Pakistan and Indonesia.

When I came to leave after the Khalifa's speech I couldn't find my car among the many parking areas, so I stayed for dinner while kind volunteers went in search of it, and had the priivilege of sitting next to the King of Allada in Benin,who is also
President of the Supreme Council of Sovereigns in Bénin. The King doesn't eat in public, and in his own realm his food is prepared by the Queen, who tastes it and serves it to him, then leaves the room. Succession is by the choice of the King from amomg his sons, and he told me he had selected his secod son, who is a 25-year old banker. His eldest som is a journalist. He said he Ahmadiyya Jamaat is flourishing throughout Bénin. In fact I gathered from the Khalifa's speech that they are making excellent progress also in other West African countries such as Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana.

Sa Majesté Kpodégbé Djigla, Roi d’Allada

The Ahmadiyya 100th anniversary Jalsa Solana

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joy, Chris and Arty Hunt, and New Zealand visitor Jeff Norman

End of term

Yesterday both Houses rose for the summer recess until October 6. I went in primed to ask a question about the extraordinary situtaion in which the UK has 'deproscribed' the People's Mojahedin of Iran, but the Council of Ministers has voted to keep them on the European terror list. At 28 minutes, the Leader of the House gave preference to Slynn of Hadley, and his question took up the remaining two minutes. This was the second time our front bench had been frozen out in the last week, and perhaps our Whips can take the matter up at the Leader's meeting when we come back. This one was particularly annoying for me, since I have been involved in Iranian affairs for a great many years.

Later, the Prime Minister's statement on Iraq was repeated in our House by the Leader, and I fielded it for the LibDems, followed by a late lunch with Lindsay and her friends.

Some people think our long summer recess means that Parliament hasn't got enough to do. But there are also moans about the volume and complexity of modern legislation, and if Government had the opportunity, they would be shovelling even more of it into the machine. During the summer recess, Members aren't sitting on the beach all the time, but fitting in foreign work visits, party conferences, and consultations with their advisers - as well as clearing up the backlog of paperwork!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ghassemlou commemoration

With Ursula Smartt, talking to Alison Blenkinsop at the Parliament Square Breastfeeding Picnic


Meeting with Ashaful Ilam, General Secretary of the Awami League, Bangladesh, followed by lunch with Ursula Smartt. Then a quick visit to the Breastfeeding picnic in Parliament Square. At 18.00, chaired and introduced (see my speech below) a meeting to mark the 19th anniversary of the assassination of Abdurrahman Ghassemlou Secretary-General of the Kurdish Democratic Party by Iranian agents, then about 22.30, moved an amendment to the Education and Skills Bill on the education of Gypsies and Travellers from 16-18.

July 13 was the 19th anniversary of the brutal and ruthless assassination of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, the Leader of the KDP, He was in Vienna expressly to continue negotiations with Tehran which had started the previous winter. The day before, there had been a meeting with the Iranians at the apartment where he was staying at 5 Linkebahn gasse. On the KDP side in addition to Ghassemlou there were Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar and Professor Fadhil Rasoul, while the Iranians had Mohammed Jafar Sahraroudi, who had been deputy commander of the 15th Corps of the Pasdaran, the revolutionary guards, based in the city of Khormanshagh; Hadji Moustafawi, said to be the chief of the Vienna Bureau 0f Iranian terrorists, and Amir Mansoor Bozorgian, a defector from the KDP who had become an agent of the regime, and carried a diplomatic passport. The day after the meeting, shortly after 19.00 local time, Mr Ghassemlou was killed by three bullets fired at close range. Mr Ghaderi-Azar was hit by 11 bullets, and Fadhil Rasoul by five.

The Austrian police suspected that the killings were perpetrated by Iranian agents, and they issued arrest warrants for Bozorgian and Mustafawi on minor charges. At first the Iranian Embassy gave permission for Bozorgian to be questioned, but then cancelled the appointment. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Alois Mock, said it was ‘probable’ that Iran was behind the murders.

In spite of the strong suspicions, Sahraroodi was allowed to leave Austria on July 29 on the basis that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to have him arrested, and a fourth man, identified only as Montazer, who was said to have been waiting outside the apartment to drive the murderers away, also left with permission on the same day. The newspaper Der Standard wrote:

”The authorities did everything to facilitate the departure of witnesses and suspects to avoid light being shed”.

It was clear that the Austrians didn’t want any trouble with Tehran, and were doing their best to ensure that the police investigation would get nowhere. Nor was any protest made to the Iranian government for this frightful atrocity. But this was not the only assassination perpetrated by Iranian government killers abroad. Three years later they murdered Dr Ghassemlou’s successor Dr Sadegh Sharafkandi and three of his colleagues in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, a crime that was masterminded by the regime’s Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian. The former Prime Minister of Iran, Shapour Bakhtiar, and his aide Soroush Katibeh were stabbed to death in his home outside Paris in 1991, according to The Independent on the orders of then President Rafsanjani. And there are many more examples.

Nobody wants an armed conflict with Iran except a handful of extremists in the US Republican Party. But these appalling murders shouldn’t go unpunished. We should make it clear to the Iranian authorities that as part of any deal to improve relations with Europe, we expect them to acknowledge these crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Tuesday, particularly topical question by David Alton on the killing of seven United Nations-African Union peacekeepers in Sudan on 8 July, when the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had published draft charges against President al-Bashir the day before, of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I asked whether al-Bashir had a period of about three months’ grace while the ICC considers whether to prefer an indictment on these charges, and that if in the meanwhile he facilitates the work of UNAMID, causes the Janjaweed to be stopped in its tracks and facilitates the arrest and prosecution of war criminals, the court would have the power to suspend the indictment for a while. Lord Malloch-Brown was absent and Lord Bach, answering instead of him, gave a very non-committal reply.

Wednesday, Janet Whitaker had a question about Gyspies and Travellers and the 2011 Census. I was pleased to hear the Minister Brian Davies confirm that a tick-box would be included for them on the form, but asked him to agree that at the census content workshop in March, representatives of the Gypsies and Travellers, and of the CRE, were unanimous in asking for two separate categories to be included; namely, Gypsy and Irish Traveller, and that the only reason given by the ONS for not doing so was lack of space on the form. I wanted the Minister ask the ONS to divide the available space into two, using a smaller typeface if necessary, so that the two separate categories can be accommodated and local authorities would have the data that they need for their local development frameworks, in which Gypsies and Irish Travellers have to be provided with separate land. Again, the answer was non-committal and I fear its too late to consider amending the form.

Later, I spoke in the Grand Committee on three immigration orders, introducing biometric identity cards for immigrants. The Tories think its OK to make immigrants apply for these cards, but not natives. We can see that it may be convenient for the Government, and it may be hard to resist when the European Union is going that way, but it smacks of Big Brother.

Thursday morning, annual general meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group. Then after lunch, a meeting with Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League of Bangladesh, after which I took part in a one hour debate on 'strengthening Parliaments in Africa', based on a report by the All-Party Africa Group (of which I'm a vice-president).

Every conversation this week in the Palace of Westminster has turned to the recess,which begins next Tuesday, and where people are going in August. For some, its the bucket and spade, but I'm looking forward to my first ever visit to Bangladesh, as co-chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Commission, an informal group that was elected at a recent international meeting in Copenhagen. he purpose is to see what progress is being made with the implementation of the CHT Peace Accords of 1997, see

Sunday, July 13, 2008

This week


Lunch with Dr Abdulhadi Alkhawaja of the Bahrain Council of Human Rights, to discuss the worsening human rights situation over the last few months. Today I heard from Dr Abduljalil Alsingace, of the Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy Bahrain, also an old friend, that the human rights defenders who had been in custody since December 15 last year were all found guilty at a summary trial, and given sentences of up to seven years imprisonment. I have sent the details to Hina Jilani, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, asking her to make inquiries about the court proceedings.

Afternoon, the final sitting of the Select Committee on International Organisations, finalising the last sections of the report, which was approved with many amendments. We hear that the Committee's mandate is unlikely to be renewed in the next Parliamentary session and I suspect that we have been edged out by the shortage of human resources in the Clerk's Department, rather than any objective assessment of the value of our work.

Evening, met Cllr Ayum Korom Ali, who is returning to Bangladesh to contest the Parliamentary elections in his home district of Sylhet. With his background and experience, he should stand a very good chance.

Tuesday, a lunchtime seminar given by the National Council on Archives. Then fielded a question on Zimbabwe, asking the Minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, if he didn't see some incongruity between the Foreign Secretary addressing 2,000 victims of Mugabe’s terrorism in Johannesburg while at the same time the Home Secretary was causing letters to be sent to their counterparts in the UK cutting off their benefits and forcing them to return to Harare. He said the Home Office was now looking into supporting the Zimbabweans stranded in the UK. Later, a meeting with Meg Munn, accompanied by three senior officials of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to discuss the Indonesian ban on Ahmadi activities by Presidential decree, and the recent negative developments in Pakistan, where the entire population of the city of Rabwah had been charged under the notorious 298C law, and a mosque in Azad Kashmir had been blown up.

The attacks on Ahmadis throughout the world are orchestrated by the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami and its counterparts in other countries, which are based on the ideology of Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi'. Like the Egyptian scholar Qutb, he taught that an Islamic political system must have as little to do with Dar el Harb, the realm of the infidel, as possible, and that ultimately, Dar el Islam will cover the whole world. The Jamaat and their followers particularly hate the Ahmadis, because the Ahmadis believe their founder was the Messiah, and that is supposed to contradict the axiom that Mohammed was the last Prophet.

Wednesday, joined in a question about forced repatriation of asylum-seekers from Darfur, tabled by my LibDem colleague Roger Roberts. Asked whether the mass arrests, torture and disappearances of Darfuris in Khartoum since the attack by one of the rebel movements on May 10 was being taken into account, bearing in mind that the Home Office Country of Origin Information Service reports were only revised every six months. The Minister, Alan West, replied that there were many other sources of information available to the Government, but are they always conveyed to immigration judges? Later, a meeting with Navanin Afshin-Jam, a Canadian of Iranian origin who runs an organisation that campaigns against child executions in Iran.

Thursday, went to the doctor and got various jabs for my forthcoming visit to Bangladesh and attended the LibDem team leaders' meetingbto discuss the next Sesssion's legislative programme, as understudy for Lindsay Northover. But there's also yet another blockbuster Bill on immigration coming down the track, on which I'll be leading.

Friday, a lunchtime discussion with Alex Feakes, a LibDem Councillor in Lewisham and prospective candidate for Lewisham West & Penge, on ways that we can work together. It was also dear little Alastair's 23rd birthday, which he was celebrating at some length, aided and abetted by John William. John Adamson invited us out to celebrate Marcelle's birthday, a very agreeable evening at a restaurant in Charlotte Street.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Friday, with Dudi, Ginan & Malcolm

My week in Westminster

Monday: joined in a question on Zimbabwe from Peter Blaker. I asked if the Government would seek to persuade the Germans to halt the printing of bank notes, which have fuelled the 9 million per cent inflation. By coincidence, it was reported the next day that the presses had been stopped. My other question was about allowing Zimbabwean refugees in the UK to work, since clearly they can't be sent back to a country spiralling down into anarchy. This the Government are still considering.

In the afternoon, a long session of the Select Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, looking at the draft of the first three chapters of the Report. Then, a meeting of the Parliamentary Party's foreign affairs team.

Tuesday morning, meeting on terrorism with Lord West and Home Office officials.

Afternoon, meeting with Mir Ali, leader of the Mehdi Foundation International, and two colleagues. They have issued the following press release:

67 asylum seekers from Pakistan, members of the spiritual Mehdi Foundation International, have been in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, since April 23, 2007. They were fleeing from the threat of charges under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and would qualify as refugees if India was a signatory of ther United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Instead, they have been charged with criminal offences under Indian law, for burning their Pakistani passports and obtaining visas by deception. The detainees acknowledged that they had given spurious reasons to get the visas, as refugees normally do. The maximum sentences for the two charges are 5 years and 2 years imprisonment respectively.

Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar, who will try these cases, has informed the detainees’ representatives that he is ready to start the trial as soon as the defence is ready, and July 15 has been suggested. The detainees have been advised to plead guilty as charged in the hope of attracting light sentences, and also because the proceedings might take months if they plead not guilty.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been active behind the scene but has not made any statement that could be used in court. It had been hoped that the prosecution authorities might withdraw the case, on the grounds that the defendants acted under duress.

In February 2008 the UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, Ms Asma Jehangir issued a joint Urgent Appeal with the Special Rapporteur on Torture on behalf of the detainees, see extract from her report in Annex A. No response has been received

Wednesday morning, met former President Cassam Uteem of Mauritius and David Snoxell, former UK High Commissioner in Mauritius, and accompanied them to the Judicial Committee's hearing on the Chagos Islanders case. The formidable counsel for the Islanders, Sir Sydney Kentridge, spoke lucidly and compellingly, and had ready answers to the interjections by their Lordships. At the age of 86 he has lost none of his intellectual vigour.

In the afternoon, addressed a meeting of the Anglo-Somali Society, mainly on the question of Khat. Those I discussed it with all felt that it was harming the Somali community, but agreed that making it illegal wasn't the answer.

Thursday, joined in a question on Sudan, asking whether it was realistic for the head of UN peacekeeping to say that UNAMID will have 20,000 troops and police on the ground by the end of the year, considering that after six months it has managed to increase the total to only just over 9,000. I also asked the Minister whether, at the AU summit he had urged President to enter into peace negotiations with President al-Bashir, bearing in mind that the undeclared proxy war between the two countries is one of the main causes of instability and violence in the region; and whether he had persuaded President Déby to acknowledge that the European Union force is there to protect civilians, not to engage in military action against the rebel National Democratic Alliance. Mark Malloch-Brown answered that we had been clear in all our public comments that the role of the EU force is to protect IDPs and it cannot be drawn into the political conflict between Chad and Sudan. He had not, had the opportunity to press President Déby directly, but others from Europe did, and we were working collectively to support a Libyan and Senegalese initiative for a peace agreement between Sudan and Chad.

PS Ping pong with JW 1-1 Saturday, 2-0 to me Sunday, making the cumulative score 83-78 to me.