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Rt. Hon. Tony Benn, MP
|"As Lynn has said, there are many members of Parliament who can't be here who have been associated with this campaign and I think the size of the meeting and the range of the audience is an indication of the importance that this case has now required not only in Britain and the Middle East, but like all human rights cases, world-wide. Because this is not just about two innocent people who have been caught up in a security trap and imprisoned for life- that in itself will be serious enough - but because the issues raised by the case go far beyond that and need to be examined by every society. Therefore there is as big a British interest in justice for Samar and Jawad as there is a Palestinian interest and I think if we are going to get this argument across to a wider audience. This is why we had all these activities today, it ought to be on the basis that we too have an interest because our system of justice is on trial more even than Samar and Jawad themselves. |
Now those of you who have come, who know the background of the case - the bombing of the Embassy and Balfour House, these two people picked up. The case heard in court: no suggestion what ever that they have planted the bomb but a conspiracy charge against them - which is one of the most serious charges you can make because if you are convicted of conspiracy there is no limit on the sentence that can be given to you by the court and that in itself is very very sinister. But not only that since the judge said in the course of the trial he didn't believe they planted the bomb, he was also saying somebody did. And the police have done absolutely nothing to find who really did and that throws doubt again upon the whole basis of the prosecution and the sentence. And so that is the first stage of the argument and it has gone on for a long time - the bombing was in 1994 and we are now year 2000.
And the latest appeal hasn't yet come up because intervening in that is another very important question of public interest and that is that the Home Secretary has decided to issue a Public Interest Immunity certificate which allows him to prevent the courts from hearing evidence that's derived from security forces. Now every country in the world has a security service and I think the world in which we live, I'd be surprised if we didn't. But if we are talking about public interest in any civilised and democratic society the first requirement of a public interest, is that it should be that justice is done. And when you put the public interest behind the requirement to protect the security services, then you are saying something very important about how you rate justice among the public interest that the government has to protect. And this, I am sure, is an issue that arises in any other country but it so happens to surface in this case most particularly.
Fortunately, there was a case in European Court yesterday, which I noticed and which was referred to at the press conference today, where the European Court ruled that the people who have been convicted many years ago for a murder on the road - no parallel with these case at all - they have been convicted without being given access to the evidence against them. And therefore the European Court said they had not received a fair trial. And that judgement by the European Court yesterday has a direct bearing on this one.
I am not a lawyer, I don't know where this case will end up, I would like to see the case dropped and these two young people released. But if this case does go through to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal will be bound to take account of the European Court judgement, and if they do they will be bound to say they did not have a fair trial. And if the Court of Appeal doesn't do that, then it's open, of course, to take this case to European Court and although it may take a very long time I am absolutely certain that justice will be done.
I am not optimistic by nature, but I do not believe for one moment that an act of injustice of this magnitude could even go uncorrected. And indeed Gareth Peirce, who is one of the most distinguished and courageous civil rights lawyers in this country, has devoted her attention absolutely to this case. And I had heard her quoted to say that when the man and the woman were convicted, she felt it as if it had been a bereavement. Now lawyers are very balanced people, and to hear such emotional language about the conviction of two people she had defended gives an indication of where her commitment is. So you've got that factor.
Now there is another factor which is quite exceptionally significant in my opinion, and it's this: Samar and Jawad have been held in absolutely top security prisons, couldn't have a higher degree of security. Sometimes that is maybe necessary in cases where people are convicted of serious offences. This has of course denied her (Samar) visits from her family. So the question raised is why is she being treated this way, and the answer given by the security services was that if there were decategorised and allowed to go to a normal prison this might interfere with the peace process in the Middle East.
Now have you ever heard of such an argument before? The Courts are supposed to be above politics, but obviously the Foreign Office said to the Home Office we have been told by the Israelis if they are given a normal status, it will in some way ruin whatever peace process that is in Israel and Palestine. I leave that for you to judge. But have you ever heard of such an argument? Because clearly it wouldn't have been the Palestinians who said if you decategorise them, it will interfere with the prospect of peace. It would be quite the opposite. So the Israelis said that to the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office said that to the Home Office, and the Home Office said that to the Prison Service so these people are being held as if they were murderous and dangerous.
We've got Lord Gilmour here with us, he made a point, a very distinguished former conservative minister. The former Bishop of Hereford has been here. We've got a very powerful coalition on this, and we've got to take it bit by bit.
Before the Appeal is heard, we've got to raise again this whole question of the category under which these two young people are held. Then we've got to raise the issue of the requirement to get that PII certificate lifted. I've written to the Home Secretary about it. I got the usual ministerial reply but nowadays the judges are beginning to take a little bit more interest in ministerial decisions. Judicial review is beginning to come in. Not that I have been keen on judges running everything ... at least they are independent and it may well be that the judges will recognise that the issue of that certificate was contrary to natural justice. If they don't, the European Court judgement says that, and then we got to get the whole thing back in course to get these people released.
Because there is another aspect in this. They may or may not have been involved in some explosive experimentation, but you don't jail every arms manufacturer for every misuse of the weapons they make. The world is full of arms manufacturers producing weapons and selling them to anyone who will buy them. And this indirect and uncertain connection with explosive experimentation is now used to lay the charges against them.
Now one last point, because there are others speakers here, distinguished, who can say much more than I can. But I felt a very deep commitment to justice for the Palestinian cause. I was saying I first visited your town of Gaza in 1945. I was 19 years old, I was in the RAF in Egypt. I wanted to go to Palestine, I went to Gaza and one thing that struck me, I mentioned it to you, it may seems irrelevant, there were about 16 lavatories at the railway station of Gaza: English officers, English non-commissioned officers, English other ranking officers, women officers, white officers, non-whites I mean lavatories can be the way of defining the world, when the need to go to the lavatory is common to the whole of humanity. And I noted that in my diary because it much struck me because we are talking about this that aren't we? Do we live in a world where there are 1st class and 2nd class citizens? Human rights question applies to every country in the world whether you are talking about the East Timor being mistreated by Indonesia, about the Kurds, about the Cypriots, about the Palestinians, about anybody. We are talking about the bond that unites the human race which we can only survive if we work together with mutual respect and common respect for the rights of everybody so that's why I am here."