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Pakistan court stays execution of man convicted as a juvenile

Wed, 2015-05-06 15:59

A Pakistan court has stayed the execution of Shafqat Hussain, who was sentenced to death as a juvenile and was due to be executed today.

A Pakistan court has stayed the execution of Shafqat Hussain, who was sentenced to death as a juvenile and was due to be executed today (6 May 2015), after declaring the government’s inquiry into his age "prima facie illegal". (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21622)

In order to suggest that Shafqat was not a juvenile at the time of his conviction – which was based on a forced ‘confession’ extracted after days of torture – the government’s Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) led inquiry relied almost exclusively on the trial record in making its assessment of Shafqat’s age.

A recent Supreme Court judgment acknowledged the unreliability of such documents and warned: “Recording of an accused person’s age at the time of recording his statement under s.342 CrPC is invariably based upon a cursory visual assessment which can substantially be off the mark, as proverbially, appearances can be deceptive.”

The FIA also relied on school records confiscated from Shafqat’s village to undermine the testimony of his family members, says the legal charity Reprieve. However, a copy of these same school records obtained from media sources shows that they put Shafqat’s date of birth as 20.08.1986, which would make him 17 when he was convicted.

During their inquiry the government also did not allow Shafqat’s lawyers to be present when they interviewed him, or when they interviewed his parents, and other witnesses were reportedly subject to intimidation during interviews with the investigation team.

Yesterday, the Islamabad High Court described the Pakistani government’s decision to use the Federal Investigation Authority to conduct the inquiry into Shafqat’s age as "prima facie illegal", and stayed his execution until the case has been resolved. The IHC has given the government until tomorrow to respond.

Shafqat was convicted of kidnap and murder and sentenced to death in 2004 following days of torture by police including brutal beatings with sticks and fists, electrocution, and being burnt with cigarettes. Shafqat has always maintained his innocence and he was under 18 at the time. The execution of juveniles is illegal under both Pakistani and international law.

Maya Foa, Director of the Death Penalty Team at Reprieve, said: “Shafqat Hussain was convicted following horrific torture by police when he was just a child, yet the government is trying to execute him. The High Court has acknowledged that the Pakistani government’s inquiry into his age is entirely unfit for purpose. The government’s response to the serious issues in this case – trying to rush through an illegitimate and non-transparent enquiry process and proceed with the execution – has been truly shocking. Today’s ruling should be taken as an opportunity to step back and ensure that a serious review of the issues raised in this case, and many others like it, can now take place.”

* Reprieve http://www.reprieve.org.uk/


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Assessing the party manifestos for core values and principles

Wed, 2015-05-06 14:15

Ekklesia’s General Election 2015 focus paper, ‘Vote for What You Believe In’, outlined ten core value-based principles that we feel are important for voters to consider when voting on 7 May. Party manifestos are documents with varying amounts of detail. We have taken the time to review the key points in each of seven parties' presentations to the electorate to see how well they reflect the core values and principles identified by Ekklesia in relation to establishing a socially just, more equal, peaceful and economically and environmentally sustainable society. Included are assessments of the Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party and UKIP manifestos – with reference to others. This material is also about holding politicians to account after the election.

Virginia Moffatt
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Climate change and the Christian gospel

Wed, 2015-05-06 13:56

One of the most notable omissions from the discussions and debates that have taken place in the run-up to the 2015 General Election has been any focus on environmental justice, climate change and global warming. It is as if there is a spirit of denial or apathy in the air. Yet by any measure this is one of the most urgent challenges facing our country, and indeed the world, right now. In recent years, churches in different parts of the world have started responding practically and theologically to the alarming picture being presented to us by climate science. That is encouraging. But as Bishop David Atkinson points out in this timely paper, there is a need for much more action. Care for the earth, which is God’s gift, should be a primary concern for Christians, people of other faiths, and everyone of good faith. Politicians need to be persuaded to act more decisively by the example of people across civil society, not least in the churches. This is not a Christian 'add on', but a core Gospel concern.

David Atkinson
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Reforming welfare: moving beyond the austerity mentality

Tue, 2015-05-05 02:47

Changes to the welfare system carried out by the 2010-2015 coalition government have had an enormous impact on some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people across Britain. We do not know yet what the long-term societal effects will be, but in the USA, where welfare reform was implemented in the late 1990’s, and where the architects of UK welfare reform found their inspiration, evidence has been emerging in recent months and years that there has been an increase in extreme poverty and a decreased life expectancy for claimants. In this research paper, Bernadette Meaden looks at the transatlantic anti-welfare ideology that has shaped responses in the UK, and sets out a detailed critique of current policies and assumptions. Reforming Welfare ends with a civic and Christian examination of an alternative approach which rejects punitive models in favour of an aspiration that all should 'fare well'.

Bernadette Meaden
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Social Security and the 'shrinking state'

Tue, 2015-05-05 00:27

In recent decades in the UK and beyond, the principle of social security has been under sustained attack. It is sometimes said that the world has changed so much since the early days of the ‘welfare state’ that the system is no longer fit for purpose. Among other criticisms, it is often claimed that current levels of social security are unaffordable and undermine people’s self-reliance by encouraging them to become dependent on the state. However there is mounting evidence to the contrary, argues author Savitri Hensman, though this is widely ignored by politicians and much of the media. In this paper she sets out the reasons for the dissolution of a notion of 'social security' for all. The concluding argument is for a refunding of the notion of good government within a context of mutualism, drawing on the influence of civil society and the contribution of Christians and others.

Savi Hensman
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At every birth, a royal baby

Sun, 2015-05-03 18:01
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Church of England to divest from most polluting fossil fuel companies

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:46

Christian Aid has welcomed the Church of England’s decision to divest from the most polluting fossil fuel companies.

Christian Aid has welcomed the Church of England’s decision to divest from the most polluting fossil fuel companies, signalling that dirty energy has no future in a low carbon world.

In a statement to be released today (1 May 2015), the Church Commissioners, which oversees the Church’s investment portfolio, will state that it will divest from any company that derives more than 10 per cent of its revenue from the extraction of thermal coal or tar sands oil. The church has also promised to divest from companies which "do not take seriously" their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy.

Christian Aid’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Christine Allen, said: “The Church of England has effectively read the last rites to the coal and tar sands industry. The message must be heard loud and clear; they have no place in a sustainable future, and ultimately other fossil fuels don’t either.

“The openness to further divestment from intransigent companies must be heard as a final warning to the energy industry: shift investment out of fossil fuels and into renewables or your investors will do so for you. Every pound divested by churches, public institutions or individuals is a sign that we are serious.

“As the book of Matthew says, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ We look forward to seeing the Church of England using more fully its influence as both a moral voice and a major investor, to set a vision for a better world.”

Ms Allen said she understood that for some within the church this announcement will not have gone far enough and she was keen to encourage discussion within the church about how it can make the strongest possible contribution to tackling climate change.

She said: “We recognise that there is lively debate within the church on this topic and many will be looking for this announcement to open the door to greater ambition from the church in the coming years as the details are fleshed out.

“We look forward to working with churches across the UK to help them speed up the world’s transition to a zero carbon economy. This move by the Church of England is a good first step but ultimately the world needs larger economic shifts to take place and leave fossil fuels behind for good.”

“We agree with the Church Commissioners that there needs to be sustained efforts on multiple fronts to ensure a safe and prosperous planet including divestment, investor engagement and changes in public policy.

Ms Allen welcomed the church’s emphasis on the impact of climate change upon those who did the least to cause it.

She said: “It is good that the church recognises the plight of poor countries which suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. We know that with investment in low carbon technologies and renewable energy the developing world can both grow and be green, leapfrogging the dirty energy of the past.

“Delivering climate finance will be crucial for a successful UN climate deal which will be signed this December in Paris.”

Ms Allen said that from speaking with supporters and churches around the country she sees climate change becoming an increasingly important issue for people in the pews. More than 50,000 actions to tackle climate change have been made by supporters as part of Christian Aid’s One Million Ways campaign and more than 10,000 people are expected to take part in a mass lobby of the new Parliament on June 17.



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Re-engaging young people with the political process

Fri, 2015-05-01 00:00

Young voters (here defined as 18 to 24-year-olds, including those who will be 18 year-olds by 7 May 2015) often discover themselves to be doubly damned. Through little fault of their own they may feel they have not much to say into the politics of the nation (because they have no real way to say it), and yet they are also condemned for caring too little about a political system that appears to them inaccessible and unconcerned. This paper argues that the system as it is at present is not sufficient and flexible enough to help young people to gain and maintain an interest in politics that would enable them to act and vote for what they believe in. It examines the current location of the young in British politics, considers what obstacles there are to their political engagement, sets out a broad and practical vision of change, and suggests ways to affirm the genuine representation of the young in British politics. It also looks at the role the churches and other civic groups may play in this area.

Jake Cunliffe
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The 'tax lock': not a last minute gimmick but a long term moral failure

Thu, 2015-04-30 16:31

David Cameron's 'tax lock' pledge is not just an electoral gimmick, says Jill Segger. She argues that it is revealing of the long-standing failure of the Left to counter a view of tax as a no more than a burden to be avoided or evaded.

“Between May 2015 and May 2020 there will be no increases in income tax rates, no increases in VAT – nor an extension of its scope, no increases in National Insurance – nor an increase in its ceiling”. This is the claim made yesterday (29 April) by David Cameron which he pledges to 'lock' into law during the first 100 days of a Conservative government.

No one will be surprised that Chris Leslie, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last parliament, described this as “a desperate last-minute gimmick from the Tories which nobody will believe a word of. David Cameron broke his promise not to raise VAT last time and, if he gets the chance, he’ll do the same again.”

A recent poll for BBC Radio 4's World at One, found that only nine per cent of respondents believed that manifesto pledges will be carried into effective legislation. An electorate grown weary of electoral sweeteners aree likely to treat this latest confection with scepticism. On a purely pragmatic basis, they will be right to do so. Should circumstances require an increase in tax revenue, the government would simply need to pass another law revoking its lock. Neither does the pledge rule out the options to lower the threshold at which National Insurance is paid, to lower the threshold for VAT registration, to raise the stamp duty or to remove tax relief from pension contributions.

The price paid for such fiscal legerdemain would be no more than temporary political embarrassment – a condition to which the Conservatives in government have shown themselves generally indifferent. The further harm it would do to the already badly damaged level of trust in which politicians are held, is likely to matter less than the perceived advantage gained.

But, most importantly, the ping-pong of claim and counter-claim shows how far the two largest parties in our political culture have moved from a morally mature concept of the role of taxation in an electoral democracy. There has been little or no conversation about the duties, benefits and virtues of progressive taxation during my lifetime. The Right has always presented it as a burden on individuals and a drag on entrepreneurship. Its libertarian fringe has further reinforced the idea of tax as an insult to personal freedom. Legal tax avoidence has become a growth industry as an increasingly consumerist and individualistic society has been eager to embrace a view which the Left has failed to challenge.

If tax justice – and therefore social justice – is to take its rightful place in our polity, that challenge must be made. Equivocation and electoral timidity will not deliver the understanding and support essential to the funding of the essential services of a democracy, nor will it build the mutuality of the social security upon which any one of us may need to call. Misfortune, sickness, injury and unemployment may knock at any door and a political mindset which would have us believe that those who suffer in this way are 'scroungers' is only possible because the more humane truth has been all but excised from popular consciousness.

Taxation provides our schools, hospitals, police and roads. It supports the vulnerable and is a lever for diminishing what is harmful to our common lives and supporting what is beneficial. It makes both governments and powerful corporations accountable. It is an instrument for the redistribution of wealth and influence, and therefore for greater equality.

If politicians will not make this case, they will always oppress all but the very wealthy. What David Cameron set out yesterday will mean further cuts for some of the most vulnerable of our citizens. In the longer term, if unchallenged on moral grounds, it will make us a harder, more cruel, grasping and solipsistic country. Labour must find its backbone – maybe with a little help from the SNP – and dare to refocus both politicians and people on what makes for a good society.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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