On The Times, Andrew Norfolk and the Paucity of Power

In reference to The Times reporting and leading comment regarding IHRC on 10 October 2019, IHRC stated:

It matters little that e.g. the charity that gives its money to IHRC is in fact the charitable arm of IHRC registered under the direction and full supervision of the head of the Charity Commission’s registration unit.  Or that, despite some years of trolling, the Charity Commission, even under erstwhile Henry Jackson member William Shawcross’ leadership, could find nothing actionable in that body’s actions.  These and the other myriad distortions and outright misrepresentations of IHRC’s work by The Times are not journalistic in any commonly accepted sense of the word. Rather they are an exercise in subjugation – an expression of power by those who have it over those they wish to see deprived of it.

As we have been arguing for some time now the shrinking of civil society space continues apace in the UK, with articles like these closing down further the possibility of political discussion.  This is in fact the topic of our forthcoming annual Islamophobia conference.

In practical terms there is very little that those attacked in this way can do in response except take comfort in the knowledge that as Malcolm X stated, truth is on the side of the oppressed. 

And the truth has a power all of its own.

Below our correspondence from last week and this with Andrew Norfolk.

———————-
IHRC Media

Tue 08/10/2019 16:49

To:

Norfolk, Andrew <…>;

Dear Andrew,

You haven’t revised your content or questions for us to be able to respond.  It seems you are as muddled as when you wrote your story about the child fostered by Muslim foster parents.

Best regards,

IHRC Comms


From: Norfolk, Andrew <…>
Sent: 08 October 2019 11:34
To: IHRC Media
Subject: Re: Questions from The Times

Dear IHRC Comms,

We did not receive any communication from IHRC yesterday. 

For unrelated reasons, publication of the article has been delayed by 24 hours. Should IHRC wish to send any response or comment in addition to your initial reply that was sent at 18.22 on Friday last week, please send it to me by 6pm today (Tuesday October 8).

Regards,

Andrew Norfolk

Andrew Norfolk

Chief investigative reporter

The Times

https://mailfoogae.appspot.com/t?sender=aYW5kcmV3Lm5vcmZvbGtAdGhldGltZXMuY28udWs%3D&type=zerocontent&guid=0c9b29b7-5a11-4dbc-ba1a-131742618451

On Mon, 7 Oct 2019 at 13:39, Norfolk, Andrew <…> wrote:

Dear IHRC Comms

Thank you for your initial reply to my email. I’m sorry you felt my wording was confused, muddled and misrepresentative. I believe the email set out clearly the nature of the article that we intend to publish. It gave IHRC full notice of matters that are likely to feature and an opportunity to respond to certain questions. 

Re your point (i), I counted 54 countries that IHRC has publicly condemned for alleged human rights violations. If IHRC can provide me with evidence of any nation in the world other than Iran that a) has not been condemned by IHRC and b) has been described by IHRC’s chairman as the only nation in the world standing against tyranny and oppression, I look forward to receiving it.

I also look forward to receiving your full response to my initial email by 5pm today.

Regards,

Andrew Norfolk

Andrew Norfolk

Chief investigative reporter

The Times

https://mailfoogae.appspot.com/t?sender=aYW5kcmV3Lm5vcmZvbGtAdGhldGltZXMuY28udWs%3D&type=zerocontent&guid=68b0c418-b201-499c-9d44-19b25185d3fe

On Fri, 4 Oct 2019 at 18:22, IHRC Media <media@ihrc.org> wrote:

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your email.

We are happy to engage regarding any criticism of our work, however your content and thus the questions seem confused and muddled, and at some stages outright misrepresentative.  We invite you to clarify both your article content and your questions, but in the meantime please note the following:

(i)                         There are 195 countries in the world.  We thank you for counting how many we have covered in our work, which you claim is 50.  By your argument we would also be aligned politically to many if not all of the other 145 by virtue of not having said anything on these countries / governments e.g. the Holy See, Kyrgystan, Argentina, Latvia etc.

(ii)                      Trying to align us to any country based on the ethnicity of any of our staff, directors or volunteers is essentially a racist enterprise.  Our staff, volunteers and directors hail from and or have heritage from many parts of the world – in fact IHRC is unique amongst Muslim led NGOs in that it is both ethnically diverse and from a Muslim point of view non-denominational.

(iii)                   As regards Professor Ameli’s position, we are proud to have such a highly renowned academic as one of our directors.

(iv)                   You mention Nazim Ali.  Please note he did not give a speech on Al-Quds Day that year as you stated.  His comments whilst on the protest were the subject of an attempt by CAA to have him prosecuted.  Please note that their attempt was neither accepted by the CPS or the indeed the courts to whom they appealed.  Please find a summary of the judgment here, which deals with the specific words that you quote https://www.ihrc.org.uk/publications/20799-balancing-freedom-of-expression-with-public-disorder/

It appears you have a copy of the book Environment of Hate: the New Normal for Muslims in the UK.  We refer you to the discussion on Islamophobic tropes inter alia on entryism – effectively demonising Muslims for saying and doing the same things as non-Muslims.  Your piece appears to fall categorically into that narrative.

We will be in touch on Monday.

We hope this helps.

IHRC Comms


From: Norfolk, Andrew <…>
Sent: 04 October 2019 09:59
To: IHRC Media
Subject: Questions from The Times

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

FAO Massoud Shadjareh and Arzu Merali

Dear Mr Shadjareh and Ms Merali,

In the near future, The Times intends to publish an article in which the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) will feature.

We would like to give IHRC an opportunity to respond, pre-publication, to claims and statements that are likely to feature in the article.

To that end, this email gives details of what we intend to report and asks questions to which The Times requests your response. 

If IHRC wishes to provide any reply or comment, or to challenge the accuracy of any of the claims and statements listed below, we shall need to receive your response no later than 5pm on Monday next week (October 7). Please send any correspondence to […].

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Norfolk

Chief Investigative Reporter

The Times

***

CLAIMS AND STATEMENTS

IHRC was founded in 1997, is based in Wembley, north-west London, and is closely aligned to Iran.

IHRC is primarily funded by a registered UK charity, IHRC Trust, which has the same registered address as IHRC. The trust gave IHRC £1.2 million in the six years from 2013 to 2018 “for various charitable projects” and received £250,000 in HMRC Gift Aid in the same period.

IHRC’s website makes no declaration that it has any links or affiliation to Iran.

In its most recently filed annual return to Companies House (March 2016), IHRC had four directors: Saied Reza Ameli, Massoud Shadjareh, Arzu Merali and Nazim Ali.

Mr Ameli is a Tehran-based Iranian academic and the secretary of one of Iran’s leading policy-making bodies, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

Mr Shadjareh, IHRC’s co-founder and chairman, was born in Iran. He said this year (Press TV interview, 11 February 2019) that Iran “is undoubtedly the only nation which is standing against oppression, against tyranny and for the independence of people, in line with Islam”. He said that Iran’s “ongoing  revolution” was “in line with the wishes of Iranians and in line with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people in the region and beyond”.

Mr Shadjareh has described Ayatollah Khomeini (speech at Imam Khomeini Conference, 2 June 2013) as “a torch of light for the whole of mankind” and said that his death in 1989 was “much more difficult” for him than the death of his own father.

Ms Merali, who is married to Mr Shadjareh, is IHRC’s research director. She was introduced at a 2014 conference (Strike the Empire Back, 14 June 2014) as “a revolutionary” and a “powerful voice of Islamic-inspired resistance to the status quo”.

Ms Merali told that 2014 conference: “We know who the enemy is. We know that it’s the West, the Nato countries [and] on a more philosophical level it’s the structure, the white supremacist or liberal structure that we’re all suffering at the hands of”.

In 2016, Iran presented Ms Merali with a human rights award in Tehran for her “constant efforts to defend Muslims and fight against Islamophobia” (Tehran Times article, 3 August 2016).

Mr Shadjareh and Ms Merali were co-authors of a 2008 article (Brixton, Berkley and Other Roads to Radicalisation, published in Cultures of Resistance: Jihad and Terrorism, A War of Words, July 2008 issue) in which they described their “roads to radicalisation” as Islamists and declared that “we are all Hezbollah”.

Mr Ali gave a speech four days after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in which he condemned “Zionists who give money to the Tory party to kill people in high rise blocks”.

IHRC regularly accuses European authorities of waging a hate campaign to demonise and criminalise all Muslims. 

IHRC leaders have also said:

* Britain is a “Stasi state” (Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK, IHRC report by Saied Reza Ameli and Arzu Merali, 11 November 2015)

* Britain’s anti-terror laws are a “war on Muslims” (Massoud Shadjareh, IHRC press release, 19 October 2015)

* English is a “colonial language that will always subjugate you” (Arzu Merali, Middle East Eye, 20 June 2016) 

* “The Olympics didn’t create a segregated London.  It has simply made physical the class, ethnic and economic barriers with walls and guns.  This is apartheid London, and yet people wonder why we riot.” (Arzu Merali, IHRC website, 31 July 2012)

IHRC says it campaigns for “justice for all peoples regardless of their racial, confessional or political background” (IHRC website, “About Us”).

Mr Shadjareh and Ms Merali have said that IHRC’s ethos is to “stand up for the oppressed whosoever they are and whomsoever oppresses them” (Brixton, Berkley and Other Roads to Radicalisation, published in Cultures of Resistance: Jihad and Terrorism, A War of Words, July 2008 issue).

IHRC has issued more than 1,200 press releases since 1997, criticising more than 50 countries for their alleged mistreatment of Muslims. Primary targets include Britain, America, and Israel, but it also regularly criticises Muslim countries that have poor relations with Iran.

Articles on IHRC’s website also feature criticism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and organisations including the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.

In addition to its 1,245 press releases, IHRC’s website also has 232 news articles, 159 comment pieces and 135 event reports. 

None of those pieces of writing makes any criticism of Iran’s discriminatory laws and human rights abuses against women. Amnesty International has described those abuses as “appalling”.

Iranian women are required by law to wear hijab in public. They are banned from dancing or singing solo in public and from attending mixed parties. They are not allowed to attend men’s football matches. They need permission from their father, paternal guardian or husband for many activities outside the family home.

A 29-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested and faced criminal charges after disguising herself as a man in an attempt to enter a stadium to watch a men’s football match died last month after setting herself on fire outside court. 

Other Iranian women have received lengthy jail sentences in recent months for publicly defying the compulsory hijab law.

The legal marriage age for girls in Iran is 13. Child marriage is rife.

Amnesty International says that violence against girls and women in Iran is widespread and rarely punished.

Amnesty International has also condemned what it describes as Iran’s widespread suppression of freedom of expression, its “vicious” treatment of religious minorities and its use of torture, floggings and other “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments”.

Iran has imprisoned several foreign nationals on spurious grounds in recent months and years, including the British-Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. 

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist who is living in exile in America and formerly lived in Britain, is a prominent campaigner whose My Stealthy Freedom and White Wednesdays campaigns have highlighted the Iranian regime’s discrimination against women.

On 29 July this year, Fars news agency reported a declaration by the chief of the Islamic Revolution Courts of Tehran that any Iranian woman who sends a video to Ms Alinejad faces a 10-year prison sentence.

Three members of Ms Alinejad’s family, including her brother, were arrested last month by Iranian Ministry of Intelligence officials.

Amnesty International said the arrests of Ms Alinejad’s relatives illustrated the Iranian regime’s “chilling determination to crush women’s rights activism”.

Amnesty International said: “These arrests are a blatant attempt by the Iranian authorities to punish Masih Alinejad for her peaceful work defending women’s rights. Iran’s authorities should release them immediately and end their campaign of repression against women.”

IHRC has criticised Iran for none of the examples listed above of Iran’s mistreatment of women.

Ms Merali was, however, the lead signatory to a letter (14 September 2016) that criticised French laws restricting the wearing of Islamic symbols and stated that “French attempts at regulating the clothing of Muslim women sully the work of feminists, womanists and everyone else seeking liberation from stifling patriarchal societal norms”.

IHRC has, by contrast, issued no criticism of Iran for imposing restrictive clothing laws and harsh punishments on Iranian women who seek liberation from Iran’s stifling patriarchal norms.

Mr Alinejad accuses IHRC of hypocrisy and double standards. She says that IHRC is a “mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic” and is used by Iran “to spin its propaganda”.

Ms Alinejad said the leaders of IHRC “operate from a free country and take advantage of its freedoms to say what they want, but by staying silent about the suffering of women in Iran they’re trying to keep us silent. Iranian women are being sent to prison just because they want the same life and freedom that these people enjoy in the UK. They’re an Iranian propaganda tool.”

Ms Alinejad said it was “beyond sad” that IHRC, a British organisation claiming to champion global human rights, should choose to ignore the widespread abuses against women of ”the world’s most horrible regime”.

***

QUESTIONS

1. Does IHRC dispute the accuracy of any of the claims and statements listed above? If so, please clarify.

2. Why has IHRC made no public criticism of Iran’s discriminatory laws against women?

3. How does an organisation that claims to “stand up for the oppressed whosoever they are and whomsoever oppresses them” justify its failure to speak publicly in support of Iranian women who have been imprisoned for defying Iran’s compulsory hijab law?

4. Does IHRC accept that its views and messaging are, as described earlier this year in a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, “broadly consistent with those of the Iranian regime”? If not, please clarify.

5. What is IHRC’s response to Ms Alinejad’s claim that it is guilty of hypocrisy and double standards?

6. Are Mr Shadjareh and Ms Merali married? If not, please explain why they are registered as living at the same address (…), although the Times will not publish this address) and why, on 31 October 2012, a blog by Ms Merali on the IHRC website described her Iran-born husband as the chairman of a human rights organisation and stated that he had held that position for 15 years.

ends

Andrew Norfolk

Chief investigative reporter

The Times