As you know, following an interview on Channel 4 on Sharia law, Islamists threatened Sudanese secular campaigner and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud with death, calling her a “Kafira” and “Murtada” who has offended Islam and brought “fitnah”. One of those making the threats was Salah al Bandar (or Salah al Bander) who has until recently been a Liberal Democrat Councillor.
Spencer Hagard, Chair of the Cambridge Liberal Democrats, initiated an investigation into the allegations against al Bandar and found them “groundless”. Instead, he said the inquiry “increased [his] previously high esteem for” al Bandar. This despite the fact that an independent translation was not carried out by the Lib Dems to verify the threats made nor was any of the documented threats made against Nahla Mahmoud addressed other than to say that the quotes were a “gross distortion”, and “utterly misrepresented”. See article on this here.
Kafir(a) and Murtad(a) are well known derogatory terms meaning infidel and apostate; moreover, fitnah is another derogatory term against disobedient women who are seen to be the source of chaos or affliction in society. Given that apostasy is punishable by death in ten countries including Sudan, and a prosecutable offence in many more, the terms can hardly be considered positive and open to distortion.
Rather than addressing the specific threats made against Nahla Mahmoud, al Bandar mentions his “dedicat[ion] to individual human rights”, including with organisations like Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT).
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain finds this wholly unacceptable and calls on the Lib Dems to provide a detailed response with regards the complaint against al Bandar. His questionable “human rights” record is irrelevant and can hardly be used in his defence.
SOAT, the group al Bandar cites as proof of his commitment to human rights, has in fact had problems with him. Founding members of the organisation wrote a letter in September 2008 saying that the board of trustees headed by al Bandar was acting “opposite to its vision and values.” They went on to say: “we have serious concerns and doubts about the constituency and legitimacy of the current board of trustees of the organisation. We believe that the election procedure of the board was inappropriate, lacked transparency and equal opportunities to participate. In fact it has been manipulated. As a result, we have explained and informed the UK Charity Commission of the current situation.” The letter can be seen here.
In another open letter to Salah al Bandar in August 2008, a number of human rights organisations and activists wrote about the “distressing attempts to undermine organisations and activists” in Sudan, including actions “not in line with the values of the human rights movement”, such as “failure to pay financial remuneration to staff and volunteers” and the “campaign of unfair dismissals against the organisations’ human rights defenders”, which according to the letter “violates the core principles of the rights for which we are still working”. The letter can be found here: Pages 1-2, Pages 3-4.
Liz Hodgkin, the previous head of Amnesty International’s Sudan section, refused to receive an award from SOAT in August 2008, for reasons explained in a letter to Salah al Bandar. “I felt very honoured when I was told I had a prize from SOAT in honour of Nazik Mohammed Osman, since I admired so greatly Nazik Osman and enormously respect the past work of SOAT. However, since the public announcement … I understand that there are deep problems within the organization between the Board of Trustees and the workers and activists on the ground in the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development in Khartoum. I have no wish and no right to make a pronouncement as to the rights and wrongs of the conflict between staff members and the board of trustees of the Sudan Organization Against Torture. However, I feel that in a situation of such division you should not now be awarding a prize in honour of Nazik Osman Mahmoud and I am not able to accept such a prize.” She added: “A human rights organization has to be especially careful to maintain the human rights of those who work for it and with it.”
Furthermore, that same year, al Bandar used personal information obtained from Bashair Ahmed’s employee file at SOAT to intervene in her case against Amnesty International regarding race discrimination. Bashair issued a public letter to al Bandar saying: “I don’t know you nor know why you decided to pick up on my case and target the organisation in a way which seems personal and doubting the credibility and overall commitment of the organisation toward human rights. Your invasion to my personal and family life, without permission, collecting information and posting it around – including many untrue details- have complicated my personal and professional life and created serious concerns among many family members. You have also used your position as the head of SOAT, which I used to work at long time before you were hired, to access confidential and personal information from my folder there. I would like to remind you here that this could be considered as a crime according to the UK Data Protection Act 1998, which the organisation is signed up to.”
Another organisation, the Sudanese Communist Party/UK and Ireland branch, of which Al Bandar was a member, issued a statement on 17 January 2012 saying al Bandar has “used many different mechanisms including lying, spying, manipulating, black-mailing, and doubting the credibility and commitment of many members of the Communist Party”.
The statement said al Bandar used three main approaches in doing this, namely “targeting the work and members of the Sudanese Communist Party in the UK”, and “divid[ing], creat[ing] conflicts on both political and social levels among the diaspora opposition and its networks especially in the UK.” His third approach was “destroying Sudanese human rights’ organisations. Especially those which investigate and document human rights abuses and violations of the current government in order to take further legal actions. The ‘Sudanese organisation for Human Rights’ is one example where he accused its general secretary Abd Alsalam Hassan and other members of fraud. He handed out a statement at the same day of the organisation’s AGM concluding so. His statement was dismissed after the actual financial report was presented. Another example was creating conflicts and destroying- along with others- the work of the ‘Sudanese Organisation Against Torture (SOAT)’/ UK, which used to play a significant role through its partner organisations in Sudan, in documenting torture cases, leading trials and putting international pressure on the Sudanese government under the increasing violations and abuses in Sudan.”
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain calls on the Lib Dems to address the documented evidence of al Bandar’s threats rather than listing his questionable human rights record.
Al Bandar may think the usual double speak of saying one thing to an Arabic-speaking audience and another to an English-speaking one will suffice as a defence as it clearly has for Hagard. Nonetheless, we insist on a proper investigation.
Moreover, when approached by Nahla Mahmoud, the police said that nothing could be done and that Nahla should try not to “anger” al Bandar any further. The CEMB reiterates its call on the police to take the matter of threats against Nahla Mahmoud and ex-Muslims seriously and to take action to protect her.
Hundreds of individuals and groups have already signed on to an open letter calling for the authorities to take action. You (and/or your organisation) can read more about the specific threats made by al Bandar and sign the open letter here.
For more information on the above, please contact Nahla Mahmoud or Maryam Namazie at [email protected]
1. 14 September Rally and March for Secularism: Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is endorsing the Central London Humanist Group’s Secular Europe March and Rally on Saturday 14th September 2013. We will assemble at 12.30pm in Temple Place, next to Temple Tube Station; the March will start at 1.00pm and end in a Rally at Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street at around 2pm. Confirmed speakers include Sue Cox (Survivors Voice), Charlie Klendjian (Lawyers Secular Society), Rory Fenton (AHS President), Philosopher AC Grayling, Adam Knowles (Chair of GALHA – LGBT Humanists), Philosopher Stephen Law, Houzan Mahmoud (Organisation for Iraqi Women’s Freedom), Nahla Mahmoud (Council of Ex Muslims of Britain), Maryam Namazie (Fitnah, CEMB and One Law for All), Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters), Naomi Phillips (Chair of Labour Humanists), Nina Sankari (Polish Rationalist Association) and Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All) amongst others. More information available here: Join event page on Facebook and Event page on Meetup. We will be using the hashtag #SECM2013.
2. Other events: In the upcoming months, there will be evening drinks in London with philosopher Arif Ahmed and a meet-up of apostate asylum seekers and refugees on 19 September; lunch in Manchester on 24 August and Birmingham on 7 September organised by the Northern Ex-Muslim Meetup Group and the CEMB’s Annual General Meeting on 12 October 2013 in London. More details can be found here.
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Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
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email: [email protected]