Europe Newsletter August 2022

Human and civil rights continue to be under attack inside and outside Europe and need defending. This autumn Amnesty will launch a new campaign focusing on the right to protest. We know that here at home the right to protest is severely threatened by the Police , Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 , which  received royal assent on 29th April 2022. Our first international action is focusing on France (see on-line petition below) and we will be working on the UK later in the year. Another toxic piece of legislation, the Nationality & Borders Bill  became law on 28th June 2022, scrapping the right to asylum.

Care for Calais, Detention Action and PCS Union are challenging the government decision to deport refugees who arrived in the UK by boat over the channel to Rwanda. Seeking asylum is a human right, and the UK can not dodge its responsibility facilitate fair asylum hearings and to grant asylum to refugees by deporting desperate people elsewhere. UNHCR stated that the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving via the channel are having a valid claim. We are calling for safe and legal routes for refugees to enter Europe and the UK, so that no-one has to risk their lives in order to reach safety. Read more below.

In January we protested against the inhuman conditions refugees from war-torn Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Congo and other places were suffering at the border of Belarus and Poland. In Amnesty’s new report on Lithuania we read chilling evidence of abuse and torture in the detention centres where refugees from outside Europe are detained. Please take action and write to the Interior Minister of Lithuania (Sample letter included).

But last not least some good news ! Please read how activists standing up for LGBT rights in Hungary outsmarted the so-called referendum, designed to further marginalise and criminalise LGBT+ people and communities

Right to protest under threat in Western Europe


While governments have long relied on aggressive tactics to police protests, security forces have increased the amount of force they use in recent years.

So-called less lethal weapons, including batons, pepper spray, tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons, and rubber bullets are routinely misused by security forces. And, since the early 2000s, Amnesty International has documented a trend towards the militarisation of state responses to protests, including the use of armed forces and military equipment. In countries including France security forces in full riot gear are often backed by armoured vehicles, military-grade aircraft, surveillance drones, guns and assault weapons, stun grenades and sound cannons.

France: Abusive and illegal use of force by police


In the coming months we will focus on the Right to protest in Western Europe as part of the Amnesty´s global campaign to confront worldwide threat to the right to protest.

Amnesty International’s “Protect the Protest” campaign will challenge attacks on peaceful protest, stand with those targeted and support the causes of social movements pushing for human rights change.

Protect the Protest! Why we must save our right to protest

At the moment you can join online to demand our freedoms and pledge your support to protect the protest.

Please sign the petition here:

We are considering at the moment further actions that can be taken from the UK in order to campaign for the right to protest in Western and Northern Europe, and we will announce those actions in our next newsletter.

“Our campaign comes at a critical juncture. The precious right to protest is being eroded at a terrifying pace, and we must do all we can to push back.” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty

Lithuania Amnesty reports on inhumane conditions, torture and ill-treatment of refugees in Lithuania

Lithuanian authorities have arbitrarily detained thousands of people in militarized centres, where they have subjected them to inhumane conditions, torture and other ill-treatment. We have documented how refugees and migrants have been held for months on end in squalid, prison-like centres in Lithuania, where they are denied access to fair asylum procedures, and other serious human rights violations, in the hope that they will ‘voluntarily’ return to the countries they fled from.
Amnesty International documented the unlawful detention of dozens of people from countries including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Sri Lanka who were unlawfully detained. Many people reported being beaten, insulted and subjected to racially-motivated intimidation and harassment by guards in the heavily securitized detention centres, where there is insufficient access to sanitary facilities and healthcare.

In particular, the report highlighted:

  • Automatic unlawful detention of people who crossed irregularly into Lithuania from Belarus. By describing de facto detention as “temporary accommodation” or even an “alternative to detention”, Lithuanian lawmakers have deprived detainees of all procedural safeguards against detention, including judicial reviews of detention. People in detention are mostly people who crossed the border before Lithuania started pushbacks or who were exceptionally allowed in the country.
  • More than 10,000 instances of pushbacks of people attempting to cross into Lithuania from Belarus since August 2021.
  • The violent methods used by border authorities (including beatings and tasers, and forcing people in freezing waters) at times amounted to ill-treatment, including torture.
  • Denial of access to asylum for those who managed to enter the country since August 2021. These asylum-seekers, including Syrians, have been detained and left in a legal limbo for several months, without being given any chance to submit an asylum application.
  • Abysmal conditions of detention, amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment and including inadequate access to medical and mental health care.
  • Torture and other ill-treatment against people in detention.

In stark contrast to the welcome refugees from war torn Ukraine received in European countries including Lithuania, refugees from war torn Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Sudan who arrived via Belarus are locked up in squalid prison-like centres. Amnesty reported that the Lithuanian authorities have arbitrarily detained thousands of people in militarized centres, where they have subjected them to inhumane conditions, torture and other ill treatment. Methods of torture included: beating with hands, tasers and batons. Assault with pepper spray. Sexual humiliation of Black women and sexual abuse. Refugees in Lithuania are denied fair asylum procedures and there have been more than 10000 instances of violent pushbacks by border forces. Like elsewhere violent pushbacks are becoming the norm. Reception centres in Lithuania are designed to deter people and force them to return to their country of origin.  Please read the full report : Lithuania: Forced out or locked up – Refugees and migrants abused and abandoned

To the Minister of Interior Agnė Bilotaitė

Address: Šventaragio g. 2, LT-01510 Vilnius, Lithuania


Dear Minister Bilotaitė

I am shocked and appalled to discover how refugees and migrants are being treated in Lithuania. As you are aware, thousands of people are being detained in inhumane conditions or violently pushed back to Belarus, denied their right to seek asylum.

Legislation and ministerial orders introduced in 2021 have enabled Lithuanian border guards to push people back to Belarus rather than granting them a chance to seek protection, represent a blatant violation of international and EU law. It is your responsibility, as well as the European Commission’s, to ensure that such violations end immediately and that those who reach Lithuania can access fair asylum procedures.

Currently, innocent people, including those in need of international protection are being unlawfully detained and abused on your watch.  Refugees and migrants are being held in appalling conditions in prison-like, unsanitary detention centres, where they are suffering violence and abuse from the guards. There are reports of beatings, including with batons, pepper-spray and tasers, as well as of sexual humiliation and violence. People held in detention centres have inadequate access to medical and psychological care.

Lithuania, as part of the European Union, has shown admirable solidarity with refugees fleeing Ukraine and has proven that it can receive people fleeing danger and offer them protection.

I urge you to treat all refugees equally and ensure the respect of refugees and migrants’ rights in line with international and EU law. I therefore call upon you to:

  • Immediately halt pushbacks at the borders with Belarus and allow all people wishing to seek international protection to access fair asylum procedures in Lithuania.
  • Immediately release all people currently detained in Lithuania under the “temporary accommodation without freedom of movement” regime.
  • Launch investigations on reports of torture, ill-treatment and excessive use of force against people detained in Lithuania’s Foreigners’ Registration Centres

Yours sincerely

United Kingdom

On 28 June 2022 the UK Government introduced a raft of measures in a new piece of legislation, the Nationality and Borders Act, which will create significant obstacles and harms to people seeking asylum in the UK’s asylum system.

Amnesty is warning that this Act, in particular Parts 2 and 3, fundamentally breaks with the UK’s commitment to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, including by:

  • arbitrarily and unlawfully designating some refugees as of lesser status and with lesser rights than others;
  • ripping up longstanding understanding and application of the Convention’s refugee definition and rights;
  • restricting or preventing asylum decision-makers from properly assessing the claims and the evidence before them;
  • seeking to penalise, punish and imprison refugees for exercising their right to seek asylum in the UK;
  • seeking to cast off UK responsibility for people seeking asylum onto other countries with existing asylum responsibilities of their own.

The controversial legislation amounts to the Home Secretary “unlawfully rewriting” what is means to be a refugee, says Amnesty, and will have a severe impact on refugees claiming asylum in the UK, including in respect of the following:

  • Some refugees – including many who claim asylum based on the persecution they face resulting from their sexual identity or orientation – will be unfairly required to meet extra tests to have their status recognised. This may exclude many people from the asylum to which they are entitled – and require – to safeguard them from persecution
  • Refugees who arrive or enter the UK without prior permission will be penalised – including by criminal prosecution, imprisonment and exclusion from their full rights to asylum in the UK, directly violating the 1951 Refugee Convention
  • The new laws are highly likely to cause the UK to wrongly refuse asylum to thousands of people despite them having presented a grave risk that if sent back to their home countries they will face torture and other forms of persecution

Amnesty believes that talk of targeting criminal gangs is a cynical distraction from the true intent – which is to penalise and deter people from ever seeking asylum in this country. The measures in this act will in fact make people even more vulnerable to smugglers and abusers while doing further damage to the UK asylum system.

A short version of the UN Convention definition is:

“someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 changes this definition in various ways (as well as changing some of the meaning of other provisions of the Convention).

Care4Calais     from the charity Care for Calais

Today we had the best news – Alyas, one of the refugees who was detained and told he was going to Rwanda, has been released!

The threat of Rwanda has been incredibly stressful for Alyas. He found it hard to understand what was happening to him, and to make things worse, he has a severe medical problem. His kidney is in the wrong place, and puts pressure on other organs, causing him a lot of pain. He has seen a UK doctor who had given him painkillers, but he needs proper treatment. He was terrified that he would not get any help in Rwanda.

We’re so happy to know Alyas is now free to get the support he needs, and to apply for Uk asylum. After all he’s been through, it’s the least he deserves.

Alyas is 24 and from the Kurdish region of Iran. Being Kurdish made it almost impossible for him to get a job in Iran; when he did get one, he was constantly harassed or arrested.

He has never been to school, although his mum taught him to read and write.

His dad was a member of the Democrat party which opposes the national government, so life was never easy for them.

When Alyas was still a young boy the government killed his father. So he was older, he joined an opposition party too. “My dad believed there could be a better life for us in Iran,” he says. “ I wanted to carry that on, to remember my dad this way”.

He never worked in Iran as his life was pretty precarious, he says he was afraid to go too far from home as he couldn’t leave his mum and sisters alone as it wasn’t safe. Their lives were constantly at risk.

He loved his homeland though, and had no thoughts of leaving until one day he was caught sending politically sensitive messages on his phone.

“I sent a message to another person in my group about a meeting” he says, “but the person I sent it to was a spy for the government”.

In that moment, Alyas’s life flipped, and he knew immediately that he was in danger.

“My friend knew this guy who told me to run and to hide myself because they were coming for me in the morning.

“If they caught me they would prosecute me and the penalty is always death. I didn’t know where to go, so I went to my uncle’s house. But my uncle was mad with me and told me to leave his house and go somewhere else in the village. After I left, my uncle was arrested and they asked about me but he wouldn’t tell them where I was.

“When my uncle was released he found me a smuggler. I was told to go to another village to meet him, and when I got there we walked to the Iranian border. At the border I had to meet another smuggler called Murat. He knew the way over the high mountains and into Turkiye. I had to sign some papers at the border. I don’t know what they were for, after I signed them we were allowed into Turkiye. We got into a big truck and headed to Istanbul.

“We drove for a whole day then we hid in some forests for seven days. There were loads of other people there too. Murat left us there and another smuggler came. He took us to a different forest and we had to wait for a car.

“Finally a huge car came. We got in and they drove us somewhere else. I don’t know where but it took a long time. Finally we came to a big water”.

He thinks this might have been Calais, but still doesn’t really know.

“We were told to get on a boat but I could see it was quite soft at one side. I looked closer and could see a tear. I told the smuggler but he yelled at me to shut up and hit me with a wooden plank.

“I got in the boat but it was very scary because I couldn’t swim. After some time the police came and we got on their boat and they took us to the UK. These police were so respectfu.l I knew I was going to a safe place”.

Imagine the shock when he arrived in the UK and was told he was being put in prison to be deported to Rwanda.

Vulnerable refugees like Alyas, who have risked their life to get somewhere safe, need our protection and support. Instead he was put in detention and given a letter telling him he would be sent to Rwanda. It caused him huge stress and fear, and it take him a long time to recover.

Alyas speaks Kurdish Sorani but really wants to learn English now, so that he can study here. He says he doesn’t know what job he wants, he says: any will do, he’ll just be happy to have one.

We wish him the best of luck, and are so relieved that he is safe for now.

We’re working incredibly hard to help other refugees like Alyas, and to fight the Rwanda plan, but we need your help.

To protect people like Alyas please add your name now =>

(Name changed to protect identity)

We’re taking the Government to court. Add your name to join the fightback against their plans to send refugees to Rwanda.

The first flight to Rwanda was stopped. But Government plans haven’t.

IT’S URGENT: In September, we’re taking the UK Government to court. So we’re building a movement of people who are dedicated to #StopRwanda.

We need to show the government that public opinion is against them, and get their plans scrapped for good – that’s why we need your help.

We want a country that treats people with humanity, compassion and fairness. For people fleeing violence and persecution, the UK should be a place to rebuild their lives. But government policies seek to destroy them by brutally deporting them to Rwanda.

We can’t let this happen – we need you to be louder than ever. Together we can make sure no flight ever takes off. Are you with us? Add your name now.

We’re taking the Government to court. Add your name to join the fightback against their plans to send refugees to Rwanda. (



 Solidarity Action

 In the July edition of the newsletter I set out details of various actions in support of the Gezi 7. One of these is a solidarity action to help ensure the prisoners know that there is worldwide concern for their situation and that the Turkish authorities understand that these prisoners of conscience will not be forgotten but that we will continue to campaign on their behalf until they are free.

Please send written messages in a well-presented format directly to the seven imprisoned defendants. There was some confusion about the format of the addresses I included in the last newsletter so I have checked these with the International Secretariat and they are set out below as they should appear on letters or packages.


Ayşe Mücella Yapıcı

Çiğdem Mater Utku

Mine Özerden


Bakırköy Kadın Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu

Zuhuratbaba Mahallesi

Dr Tevfik Sağlam Caddesi

No:28 34147

Bakırköy / İstanbul


Şerafettin Can Atalay
Tayfun Kahraman
Ali Hakan Altınay

(Has to be registered mail)


Silivri 9 No’lu Kapalı Cezaevi Koğuş A47

Semizkumlar Mahallesi Çanta Caddesi

No:162 34570



Osman Kavala

(Has to be registered mail)


Silivri 9 No’lu Kapalı Cezaevi Koğuş A-7/C59

Semizkumlar Mahallesi Çanta Caddesi

No:162 34570




Two dates for solidarity actions

The fifth hearing in the baseless prosecution of 46 people including relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances, Saturday Mothers/People is due to take place on 21 September. Whilst this is an interim hearing – ie a verdict IS NOT expected – the  Saturday Mothers/People campaign would very much welcome any show of solidarity leading up to that day:

amnesty international

Emine Ocak

  1. Please take a photograph of yourself or your group holding a printed copy of the image of Emine Ocak (shown above, the elderly mother of Hasan Ocak who was disappeared in 1995 together with the messages like those below and share them on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram)in the week up to 21 September* ‘we stand with Saturday Mothers/People – their right to peaceful protest cannot be criminalised’* ‘Acquit the Saturday Mothers/People on trial for seeking truth and justice for enforced disappearances’    * ‘We stand with all the mothers from the Plaza del Mayo in Buenos Aries to Galatasaray Square in Istanbul, seeking truth and justice for victims of enforced disappearances.’

Please use the hashtag #SaturdayMothers/People and tag the posts @cmrtesisanneleri (their Twitter handle)

amnesty international

Emine Ocak carrying a photograph of her disappeared son Hasan Ocak at a Saturday Mothers vigil


LGBTQ+ in Education Referendum

By Dora Weber, translated by Balazs Gyorgy

On the 3rd of April, coinciding with the parliamentary elections, a referendum was held in Hungary. The Hungarian Government used misinformation and hateful propaganda to convince its citizens that the LGBTQ+ society is something to shun, fear and hate. The referendum was a way for them to create the illusion that they were going to protect the Hungarian people from the LGBTQ+ community – a lie which would enable them to retain their power over the people and a way to justify the anti-LGBTQ+ laws they passed on 8th July 2021 (which served to limit the rights of same-sex couples and to limit the exposure of the LGBTQ+ community in the media) to the EU by proving to them that the laws passed were in line with the views of the public and that the government should therefore not be scrutinised for them. In other words, the referendum aimed to justify the laws passed on 8th July 2021 as well as the false claims the government made when it linked the LGBTQ+ community with pedophiles. These laws also prevent minors from learning about the LGBTQ+ community so as to prevent them from sympathising with them, understanding that they should be treated as equals and that the hatemongering and propaganda is just a way to manipulate people so the powerful can stay powerful.

The referendum posed 4 questions:

  • Do you support holding information events on sexual orientation to minors, in public education institutions without parental consent?
  • Do you support the promotion of gender-reassignment treatments to minors?
  • Do you support the unrestricted exposure of minors to sexually explicit media content, that may influence their development?
  • Do you support showing minors media content on gender changing procedures?

As stated previously, the referendum was an attempt by the Hungarian government to justify their anti-LGBTQ+ views and laws. This is made evident by the questions in the referendum. They are sly questions since they are asking questions that without context could seem genuine and indeed generalised meaning that the responses are not interpreted specifically in relation to the LGBTQ+ community but, considering that this was intended to be an anti-LGBTQ+ referendum by the Hungarian government, the questions make for manipulative ploys for the government to prove a point to their critics.

But, what makes these questions manipulative? These questions are highly deceptive because, they are not directly related to the LGBTQ+ community, established earlier in the paragraph, but rather address questions that under normal circumstances, a large majority of people would say no to as – for example – most people agree that minors should not be exposed to sexually explicit content regardless of the LGBTQ+ community as it is inappropriate for them but, that would enable the government to say that the Hungarian people are anti-LGBTQ+ as the referendum was anti-LGBTQ+ and they said the answer that supposedly restricts the exposure of the LGBTQ+ community; that is why the referendum is a ploy, its propositions a masterful lie; it asks questions that are completely normal without the context and as a result, it tricks people into agreeing to something unintentionally while the minority that does hold anti-LGBTQ+ views will by default

provide the responses that the government could use to justify its anti-LGBTQ+ stance by misinterpreting the true intention of the answers.

Fortunately, a campaign was launched by a few larger NGOs, which realised the true intentions of the referendum, urging people to circle both the “yes” and “no” options meaning that those votes would be invalid. For a referendum to “win”; 50% of all votes + 1 vote must be valid. Recognising this, the NGOs that launched the campaign to cast invalid votes asked people to circle both instead of a valid answer or circling neither. They asked for people to not cast valid votes for the reasons stated above in this article – those describe the purpose of the referendum and the conniving nature of its questions – and they also asked people to not cast invalid votes by not circling either option which is much more interesting and indeed disappointing. The campaign asked people to not do this despite it aiding their cause in theory. They reasoned that this was not actually helpful because they acknowledged that doing so would enable the government to cheat as those votes could be altered very easily. They instead chose to ask people to circle both as that response cannot be altered while still being invalid meaning that if enough people are convinced, there will not be enough valid votes to pass the threshold regardless of the answers given (“yes” or “no”).

Thankfully enough, enough people realised the nature of the referendum of their own accord or were convinced by the campaign launched by the NGOs as 1.6 million Hungarians cast invalid votes so the threshold of valid votes was not passed and even though 90% of valid votes were “no” which is what the government was hoping for as those were the votes it could misinterpret, but to no avail; the threshold was not passed and the Hungarian government was unable to display the nation’s supposedly united stand against the LGBTQ+ community.

After the referendum, the Hungarian government imposed fines on the NGO’s responsible for the campaign as well as a few others that were uninvolved but were pro-LGBTQ+ nonetheless. The fines totaled almost 9 million HUF (24,000 euros). These fines were overturned at The Curia of Hungary after the NGO’s appealed and the fines were found to be illegal and attempted to limit people’s ability to exercise free speech.