Sunday, January 31, 2010

Al-Qa'eda in Bahrain

According to the Khaleej Times, a Gulf newspaper, A Bahraini court jailed two men last week for five years after convicting them of possessing arms, plotting to attack foreign interests and linking up with Al-Qaeda, their lawyers said Wednesday.

Their lawyer Farid Ghazi said the verdict was purely “based on the possession of weapons,” and rejected charges that the defendants “belong to a terrorist organisation,” using the local term for Al-Qaeda.

“It is impossible that an organisation like Al-Qaeda could execute an attack using people that have no experience with arms, like our clients.”

Ghazi said the prosecution had also accused the two Bahraini men of “plotting to attack installations belonging to a foreign state,” referring to the US Fifth Fleet base and the US embassy in Manama.

“This is impossible because such attack would need more than two AK-47 rifles and pistols,” he added.

The second lawyer, Abdullah Hashem, said the two defendants “did not meet any members of Al-Qaeda, and never belonged to this organisation.”

He said the two were only “involved in intellectual and political debates and exchanged ideas on the Internet, as far as the accusation of belonging to Al-Qaeda is concerned.”

The men were arrested in April. The interior ministry said at the time that they were suspected of plotting attacks inside Bahrain and neighbouring Gulf countries.

In February, a Bahraini court sentenced three men to up to five years in prison for belonging to and funding a “terrorist” group abroad.

What the newspaper didn't report is that the two persons convicted were foreigners, granted Bahraini citizenship as part of the government's programme to alter the demography of the country by giving jobs and citizenship to Sunnis from neighbouring countries. All-Qa'eda terrorists would not miss the open door to get at such a tempting target as the US Fifth Fleet.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

From my window this morning. When I talked to Maurice on Skype yeserday evening he was complaining that it was too hot in Auckland.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lead poisoning of Rom families in Kosovo

Rachel, of the UK Association of Gypsy Women, reminds me that some 650 Roma families, including 400 children, were settled on a lead-contaminated site in Kosovo by the UNHCR in 1999, and that so far 84 children have died on the site through lead poisoning. Now, the WHO has demanded that the camps be shut down and the inhabitants moved. I’m tabling the following question today:

What steps they will take to assist the World Health Organisation campaign to shut down the lead-contaminated camps at Osterode and Cesmin Lug in Kosovo, and to resettle the Roma inhabitants on uncontaminated land.

There's a petition on the Downing Street website asking the Government to act on this scandalous treatment of the Roma in Kosovo (/ The Roma are an oppressed minority throughout eastern Europe, but deliberately locating these families in a place where they are slowly poisoned is quite intolerable, so please sign it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

I received in the post today a copy of The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd, by the Venezuelan writer Carol Prunhuber, for which I had written a pre-review:

This is a thorough and very readable account of the inspiring leadership of the Iranian Kurds by Abdullah Rahman Ghassemlou; of his treacherous assassination by the Iranian regime in Vienna 30 years ago, and the failure of the Austrian police to bring the killers to justice.

Prunhuber shows clearly that Iran had a deliberate policy of murdering the regime's opponents, and Ghassemlou was a prime target. We know how and why Ghassemlou was killed and who did it, but what remains a mystery is why the international community's response was so half-hearted and ineffectual.

Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the great and inspiring leader of the Iranian Kurds, was assassinated in Vienna by known Iranian agents in July 1989. For years the mullahs' regime had a programme of murdering their opponents at home and abroad, as I related in Iran: State of Terror (1996) and Iran: Fatal Writ, an account of murders and cover-ups in 2000. Ghassemlou was a prime target, and although it might have been courting a risk to Iran's relations with other states to murder him in a western capital, the mullahs rightly judged that in spite of all the evidence, they wouldn't be pilloried or sanctioned, and no formal accusations would be made against them at the UN for this atrocious crime.

Nowadays the regime judicially murders opponents, gays and even children, to the tune of some 350 a year. At the end of 2009 a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that opposition leaders were "enemies of God" who should be executed under the country's sharia law. And on February 8, seven leaders of the peaceful Baha'i religion, detained incommunicado for over two years, go on trial for their lives - see my Parliamentary Question last week

Monday, January 25, 2010

British National (Overseas) citizenship

In the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill last year we finally prevailed on the Government to grant full citizenship to British National (Overseas) citizens, who were members of non-Chinese ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. The BN(O) status entitled them to reside in Hong Kong only.

But now that the Act at last came into force on January 13, we find that the Government has created an impossible hurdle for BN(O) applicants to surmount. They have to apply for a Hong Kong Chinese passport, mking a false declaration that they are Chinese citizens. I'm tabling the following written questions, which should appear on the Order Paper tomorrow:

Whether they will instruct the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong to desist from asking a British National (Overseas) who wishes to register as British citizen to falsely certify to Hong Kong authorities that he/she is a Chinese citizen and apply for a Hong Kong Chinese passport, whether they are aware that that it is an offence under Hong Kong law to make a false statement on a passport application, and whether they will be responsible for the fines, legal expenses or prison sentence of any British national who suffers consequences under Hong Kong law because of misrepresentations made to the Hong Kong Government at the request of the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong.

Whether the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong has had any discussions with the Hong Kong Immigration Department since 13 January 2010; what matters were discussed and what was the outcome.

What is their estimate of the number of British Nationals (Overseas) who may now qualify for British citizenship under section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Internet vulnerability

I just tabled a written question, to ask the Government:

Whether, in the light of the recent acknowledgement by Microsoft that its Internet Explorer web browser was used to carry out the cyber attacks which have prompted Google to say it will leave China, they will review the policy of using Internet Explorer throughout the public sector.

As far as I can ascertain, all Government Departments and public bodies use Internet Explorer. The Parliamentary IT authorities actively discourage Members from using Chrome.

The German and French governments, on the other hand, are encouraging users to switch to another browser. I happen to be a member of the EU Select Committee which is considering EU policy on protecting Europe from large-scale cyber attacks, and is due to report in a few weeks time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Delivering LibDem leaflets this morning at Bathgate House
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community's new website -which does me the honour of displaying a video of my remarks at the inauguration of their great mosque, the Baitul Futuh in Morden, Surrey:

Tuesday I joined in Tim Clement-Jones' Question about the UK's failure to provide facilities at our embassy in Baghdad for Iraqi business visitors to the UK. This is putting us at a huge competitive disadvantage with the French, the Germans and others who do issue these visas in Baghdad, at a time when the Iraqi oil and gas resources are being redeveloped and billions of $ of business is at stake.

Thursday, my own question, about the 7 Baha'is who have been detained incommunicado for two years and are now charged with a variety of serious offences carrying the death penalty. The trial continues on February 7, and I wanted the Government to raise the issue at the UN Human Rights Council's 'Universal Periodic Review' of Iran on February 15. This process is not effective but it could be at least a mechanism for getting some of the most flagrant abuses of human rights on the public record.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Kina had her knee replacement operation this morning, and came through it with flying colours. She rang up this evening in good spirits, to ask me to send her the Christian Morgenstern poem Das Knie, which I have done:

Ein Knie geht einsam durch die Welt.
Es ist ein Knie, sonst nichts!
Es ist kein Baum! Es ist kein Zelt!
Es ist ein Knie, sonst nichts.

Im Kriege ward einmal ein Mann
erschossen um und um.
Das Knie allein blieb unverletzt -
als wär's ein Heiligtum.

Seitdem geht's einsam durch die Welt.
Es ist ein Knie, sonst nichts.
Es ist kein Baum, es ist kein Zelt.
Es ist ein Knie, sonst nichts.

This afternoon I joined in Anthony Lester's Question about the Foreign Office's representations to Libya about opposition leaders in Libya such as Jabella Matar who have been kept in secret prisons for many years without access to lawyers or family. I asked whether the Government would publish a list of the individuals about whom they had made representations, together with the text of the answers received. I also suggested that we should consult with other EU states to produce a consolidated account of all the approaches to the Libyan authorities and their replies, for presentation to the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review of Libya next year. The Minister said they would take those suggestions on board.

One more from Christmas when I was using a stick

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to school

Since the New Year my leg is more or less functional and I'm only using a stick when I go out on the snow and ice. The physiotherapist saw me today and was quite satisfied.

This week we had the last evidence session - from the Minister, Lord West - in the Select Committee's current inquiry into EU policy on protecting Europe from large-scale cyber attacks, and the report will be ready by about the end of February. (The session with Lord West is to be broadcast on
BBC Parliament on Monday 18 January at 10.50).

Monday I fielded a question about visas for athletes attending the Olympic Games, and moved two amendments to the Equality Bill. The first was to include caste among the protected characteristics, and in the debate, every speech was in favour except that of the Minister, whose argument was that no evidence had been produced that caste discrimination occurs in the UK. There will be opportunities of pursuing this further, both at Report stage and in the meanwhile, behind the scenes.

My other amendment covered Scottish Gypsy Travellers who, unlike their English, Welsh and Irish cousins, haven't been protected in the past. As a result of an Employment Tribunal case, they are now designated as an ethnic group, and contrary to what we had been told previously, this case is not being appealed.

Tuesday I spoke in a debate on the European Union Committee's recommendation that the UK opt into the EU's
Directives on Asylum Qualifications and Asylum Procedures. In the past, the EU's reports had been debated on a Take Note motion and there was no vote on them. But this was the first outing of a new procedure, in which the motion asked the House to approve the Committee's recommendation. The Conservatives abstained when we pressed the approval motion to a division, although the Conservative Members of the Committee including the Chairman, Lord Jopling, had unanimously approved the report.

Victoria very kindly came over today to help with office work. She tells me she has recorded a piece about the 1962 by-election for the BBC Radio 4 programme Broadcasting House at 09.00.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mr D A W, a 90-year old pensioner who lives in Chittagong, Bangladesh. His UK pension always arrives late, and the Department of Work and Pensions put the blame on the postal system. But it now appears that a questionnaire sent to him by the DWP has gone astray, something not mentioned by the Minister in her reply.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

First time I can remember when I've had a photo of the four of them together: Lyulph, JW, Victoria and Maurice

Monday, January 04, 2010

All alone

JW and Maite left yesterday evening; our three Catalan visitors the day before, and Maurice and Olivia on the evening of January 1. Their flight from London was cancelled after several delays on Friday night and Singapore Airlines finally decided to put them in an hotel at the airport at 02.00. The replacement flight left at 14.00, 16 hours late.and when they got Singapore, there was another 7 hour wait for the connection to Auckland, during which again they were transferred to an hotel, so at least they got some sleep. Ah, the joys of air travel.

Today I'm preparing for the debate on Sudan and the DRC, which is on Wednesday, and amendments on the Equality Bill for next Monday.

Also, had a routine scan of the aorta at King's this morning, which showed the diameter had increased from 4.75 cm last time (a year ago? to 5.0 cm today. The arithmetic seems to indicate that with aneurysms that are less than 5.5 cm, the risks of surgery are greater than the risks of rupture, though if the increase of 0.25 cm a year continues, the odds would be reversed in two years' time. While there, I took part in a test of a handheld scanner, which is a much cheaper but no less reliable way of measuring the aorta, designed for routine use in GPs' surgeries. The idea is to scan everybody over the age of 65, and refer to hospital patients with enlarged aortas. It would be interesting to see the arithmetic on this process, which could well unearth more candidates for surgery.