Europe Newsletter November 2021

Here is our November Newsletter with actions and updates. Please continue campaigning and organising. Refugees continue to drown in the Mediterranean sea, freezing to death in the forest at the border of Poland and are pushed back to countries where they suffer abuse. In the UK the Nationalities and borders bill will severely undermine the right to asylum. We have to continue campaigning, lobbying, writing, organising.


Who are Sarah and Sean?

Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini

Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini

Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder are human rights defenders, who are currently facing an unfair prosecution in Greece after volunteering as trained rescuers to help refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos. They face a number of very serious charges such as the facilitation of irregular entry of third country nationals which has the potential to put both Sarah and Sean in prison for 25 years if found guilty. This would be an extreme injustice to them, as all they sought to do was save innocent lives at sea.

If you have read Amnesty’s recent report on Greece, you will know that Greece has been reported to use a number of unlawful tactics that violate human rights, such as the use of violence in order to pushback asylum seekers and refugees. They have increased border control and even adopted a harsh and hostile approach towards activists by opening investigations and launching criminal proceedings to criminalize defenders who stand in solidarity in aiding refugees and migrants.

Last month, Amnesty became aware that the local prosecutor in Lesvos decided to bring forward a part of the charges, which if found guilty, Sarah and Sean could risk facing a sentence of up to 5 years. This trial is now set for the 18th November 2021.

Saving lives is not a crime. Sean and Sarah should not have to face any of the charges brought before them. This tactic of prosecuting people like Sarah and Sean in order to dissuade other human rights defenders from showing solidarity with refugees and migrants and deterring them from continuing their work in providing assistance is chilling. Human rights defenders should not have to fear that their freedom will be restricted for doing the decent and moral act of saving lives. Greece should redirect their focus and pledge to stop allowing human rights violations towards refugees and asylum seekers to continue, instead of cracking down on people trying to reach safety and those helping them.

Sean and Sarah should not pay the price for Greece and Europe’s failure to manage migration. Greece should be attending the needs of those seeking safety and Sarah and Sean should not be prosecuted by Greece for simply doing the task that the authorities are obligated to do.

How can you support Sarah and Sean?

You can post solidarity messages on social media in support of Sean and Sarah, preferably on the 15th or 16th November. Make sure to include the hashtags: #Sarah&Seán #DropTheCharges #SolidarityOnTrial.

You can also send supportive messages to Sean and Sarah on social media by tagging them in any of your posts.

We believe that if we can get people talking about the case and get international support calling on Greece to drop the charges against the two human rights defenders, we can demonstrate to Greece that public opinion does not support the prosecution of these two defenders.

Poland  Refugees freezing to death trapped at the border between Belarus and Poland

Refugees and migrants are stuck at the Polish-Belarus border following a cruel game of ping-pong between the Belarus and Polish governments. The result is  horrendous suffering of people trapped without shelter , food and medical care in the woods at the border. Polish and Belarusian border guards have kept them in a strip of land at the border, limiting their access to lawyers, humanitarian, and healthcare workers. While the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to provide the group with food, water, clothing and adequate medical health care, Polish authorities have so far failed to comply with this request. Instead of denying asylum-seekers entry and pushing them back to Belarus, Poland must immediately admit them into its territory, allow them to seek protection and urgently provide them with adequate shelter, food, water and medical care.

Please see video footage from the Guardian 22/10/2021

Refugees trapped and dying in the forests at the border between Belarus and Poland

Please write letters to the Prime Minister of Poland and the Ambassador of Poland to the UK

Prime Minister

Prezes Rady Ministrów
Mateusz Morawiecki
Kancelaria Prezesa Rady Ministrów, Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3, 00-583 Warszawa;


Embassy of Poland

His Excellency Arkady Rzegocki

47 Portland Place London W1B1JH

Amnesty International UK   PRESS RELEASE


“The people, including at least one minor, have been stuck at border since August

European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to provide group with food, water, clothing, medical care and temporary shelter

Amnesty has verified video shared by the Belarusian authorities, which shows people crossing the border

‘Today’s violence and new pushback… is a slap in the face of international law and the human right to seek asylum’ – Nils Muižnieks

Amnesty International is deeply concerned about reports that 17 out of the 32 Afghans stuck on the Poland-Belarus border since August have been forcibly pushed back to Belarus after attempting to cross the barbed wire fence towards Poland today.

Polish authorities admit that “direct coercion measures” have been used against people from the group who tried to cross the fence.

Amnesty has verified a video shared by the Belarusian authorities, which shows people crossing the border in the Usnarz Górny area. According to the Polish organisation Fundacja Ocalenie, a group of 17 people – including at least one minor – were violently apprehended after crossing the fence towards Poland. They were then detained in a border guard station in Poland and subsequently pushed back to Belarus by the Polish authorities. An Amnesty digital investigation had already shown that the same group had been subjected to a suspected forced return in August.

Nils Muižnieks, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office, said:

“This group of Afghan people has been held in abysmal conditions at the Polish-Belarus border for two months now. Today’s violence and new pushback to Belarus is a slap in the face of international law and the human right to seek asylum.

“The move blatantly disregards a European Court of Human Rights ruling instructing Polish authorities to assist the group and banning the authorities from returning the group to Belarus, so long as they are in Poland.

“The Polish government has shown immense cruelty in attempting to legitimise illegal pushbacks of people seeking asylum at their border. EU and international law is crystal clear on this, it is unlawful to summarily return people who cross a border irregularly without an assessment of their circumstances.”

Amnesty calls on Poland’s government to end pushbacks, repeal the amendment about the border closure, and to ensure those seeking protection can safely access its territory.

Two months in limbo

On 25 August, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to provide this group of 32 Afghans with “food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter”. On 27 September, the Court extended the order “until further notice” and also ordered that as long as the group were on Polish territory, they should not be returned to Belarus.

Despite this, the group was returned to Belarus under a Polish ministerial decree of August 2020 which establishes that, except for people falling under certain categories, those intercepted in the border area must leave Poland and be “returned to the state border line”.

At least five people have died at the border since September, with the most recent death -that of a 24-year-old Syrian man – being reported by the Polish authorities on 14 October.

The Polish border has been under a state of emergency since 2 September, and therefore remains out of bounds for journalists, MPs and activists.”

Poland: Drop the appeal against Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna’s acquittal

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna are outspoken activists and human rights defenders from Poland. They have stood against hate and discrimination for many years and are fighting for a just and equal Poland. They have been targeted by the Polish authorities just because of their peaceful activism. Their demand for justice continues.
Now, they need you to fight for them, once again.
In March 2021, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna were acquitted after spending months on trial accused of ‘offending religious beliefs’, simply for distributing posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo, the colours of the LGBTI pride flag. The ‘not guilty’ verdict was a moment of huge celebrations, but their relief was short-lived. The Polish authorities are now appealing against their acquittal, so the three women’s fight for justice continues.

Once again, they now face up to two years in prison, just for standing up for LGBTI rights in a climate of hate and discrimination in Poland. Sadly, their case is another example of the constant harassment activists and human rights defenders face in Poland for carrying out peaceful activism. The appeal against their acquittal shows the irrational determination of Polish authorities to use the criminal justice system to that end.

Having, creating, or distributing posters such as these is not a crime; it is freedom of expression, a basic human right.

Please sign and share the petition

Poland Pregnant woman dies after being forced to carry dying fetus

Latest News on Poland :  There have been mass protests after a pregnant woman died  after having been refused an abortion of the dying fetus. Poland has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and removed last year the last legal access to abortion on grounds of fetal abnormality.

Please click on the link for more information

Protests in Poland after a women died after being refused an abortion of a dying fetus

Health and care workers face reprisals for speaking out during Covid-19 pandemic

Health and care workers in Italy who raised concerns about poor and unsafe working conditions in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic were subjected to unfair disciplinary proceedings and feared retribution from their employers, new research from Amnesty International has found    (Click for the report).

Instead of addressing their health and safety concerns over issues such as the use of personal protective equipment and the true number of Covid cases in care homes, employers silenced these workers, often through unfair dismissal, and targeted them with anti-union measures.

One third of the people interviewed by Amnesty International during this research reported a climate of fear and retaliation in the workplace. The lawyers reported over ten cases of disciplinary proceedings and dismissals, also involving trade union representatives who had denounced the lack of adequate health and safety measures in various residential structures, both public and private.

The urgency of an independent investigation

The Italian authorities must ensure that the voices of these workers are heard. Amnesty International therefore calls on the parliament to set up an independent commission of inquiry which focuses in particular on the situation of residential facilities (please sign the petition here). Currently, various proposals for investigation are under consideration to investigate different aspects of the health emergency, including the congruity of the epidemic management measures, the ways in which it spread and the effectiveness of the system of residential structures. However, to date, no commission has yet been established. This commission should also consider the serious concerns raised by staff and trade unions regarding safety, health and precarious working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the preceding period.

Austria Women migrant workers are demanding rights

Click for AI document  We just want some rights”

New research by Amnesty International has revealed exploitation of women migrant care workers in Austria, with shockingly poor pay, discrimination and excessively long hours, pushing some to the brink of collapse. The vast majority of those who work as live-in carers for older people are women migrant workers from Central and Eastern Europe, who are often subjected to various intersecting forms of discrimination and abuse. Care workers told Amnesty International that unfair wages, lack of sick pay and inadequate breaks were a daily reality even before the pandemic, but Covid-19 made working conditions unbearable.

The live-in carers’ situation is further compounded by the fact that only employed care workers enjoy minimum wage, working hours protection, and access to sick pay. For the 98% of live-in care workers who are self-employed, none of these human rights are guaranteed.

“We don’t want to be self-employed. Employees have more rights. As a self-employed [person] you don’t have any rights. We only have obligations. No holiday pay, no unemployment benefits. We want somewhere we can go to when we have problems,” said Dora, a Romanian care worker.

Find the report here.

Switzerland: “I ask that they treat asylum seekers like human beings” – Human rights violations in Swiss federal asylum centres

In the past few months since Amnesty report Switzerland: “I ask that they treat asylum seekers like human beings” – Human rights violations in Swiss federal asylum centres has been published, we have been trying to inform the public about this particular issue report

Federal asylum centres in Switzerland were created to house people who are seeking asylum or are appealing a failed asylum application. In January 2020, Switzerland contracted out the running of the federal asylum centres to private companies.

Amnesty talked to people including children who were beaten by guards, including being punched and kicked, In one case, a person who suffered from asthma was sprayed with pepper gel and lost consciousness as a result.

After the Amnesty report was published an external investigation by a former federal judge revealed various deficiencies in the federal asylum centers that Amnesty International had already criticized in a research report, namely the problem of outsourcing security tasks to third parties, insufficient training of security personnel and the use of so-called “reflection rooms” where asylum seekers are being beaten.

Defend the right to asylum London march and day of action

On the 23rd of October we organised Defend the right to asylum march in London and day of action across the UK. One of the requests of our protest march was to urge the Swiss authorities to comply with its international human rights obligations, including to protect the right of all people to be free from ill-treatment, as well as to ensure accountability by investigating those suspected and punishing those convicted of committing abuses.

Thank you everyone who took part in ’’Defend the right to asylum’’!

You can find photos and messages from the march and Day of action on our Amnesty UK Europe facebook page and instagram page.

Turkey   Some good news !

On 8 October, after over two years of anxiety at the prospect of being imprisoned for up to three years following the break up by police of the Pride sit-in at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in 2019,  Özgür Gür, Melike Balkan and 17 other defendants were acquitted of all the major charges.  Just one person was given a judicial fine for “insult”.

Responding to the decision by Ankara Criminal Court to acquit 18 students and an academic who were prosecuted for taking part in a campus-based Pride parade in May 2019, Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Europe Deputy Director, said:

Todays verdict is a victory for justice, but this protracted legal battle should never have happened.

More than two years ago, a peaceful Pride march in Ankara was met with police using pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas, and participants were rounded up and dragged through the courts.

Today we take a moment to rejoice – but tomorrow we will continue the struggle to end the crackdown on human rights in Turkey, and redouble our efforts to protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Speaking after the verdict  Melike and Özgür posted video on Twitter (see link below) thanking everyone who has taken action on this case which first appeared in the Write for Rights Campaign 2020

Osman Kavala

As I reported in the last newsletter, entrepreneur and philanthropist Osman  Kavala who was arrested in 2017 and charged with involvement in the Gezi Park protests and plotting to overthrow the state was back in court on 8 October. Yet again there was no verdict or real progress on the case and the court has extended his detention and refused him bail.

This decision provoked widespread condemnation and on 18 October

the embassies of Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America On the 18 October issued the following statement:

Today marks four years since the ongoing detention of Osman Kavala began. The continuing delays in his trial, including by merging different cases and creating new ones after a previous acquittal, cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system.

(we) believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkeys international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release.”

In retaliation President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the 10 ambassadors be declared persona non grata in Turkey although following a few days of diplomatic sparring this threat was withdrawn.

The next hearing of the case is now set for 26 November. By that date we expect to learn whether the Council of Europe will commence infringement proceedings against Turkey because of its failure to implement what is, theoretically, a binding judgement of the European Court of Human Rights that Osman Kavala should be freed.

EU assessment of Human Rights situation in Turkey

On 19 October the EU published its annual report into the situation in Turkey in relation to whether or not it was moving towards meeting the requirements for any meaningful accession negotiations to take place.

Summary of  findings of the 2021 report  in respect of Human Rights issues

There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. Key recommendations of the Council of Europe and its bodies remain to be addressed. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. The constitutional architecture continued to centralise powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary. In the absence of an effective checks and balances mechanism, the democratic accountability of the executive branch remains limited to elections. Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to weakening political pluralism in Turkey. During the report period, the President dismissed the governor of the Central Bank twice.

Sustained pressure on opposition parties

Pressure on mayors from opposition parties by the ruling coalition government further weakened local democracy. Mayors from the opposition parties faced administrative and judicial investigations. In the south-east, the forcefully dismissed mayors continued to be replaced by government- appointed trustees, denying citizens their chosen representation. In most cases, the incoming trustees have kept the municipal assemblies suspended. Hundreds of local politicians and elected office holders were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

Around 4 000 members and officials of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) remain in prison, including a number of parliamentarians. In June, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment demanding the closure of the HDP, seeking a political ban for 451 HDP executives, including the party’s co-chairs and all past and present members of Parliament and executives as well as a freeze on the party’s bank accounts.

Civil Society

On civil society issues, serious backsliding continued. Civil society faced continuous pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish limiting their freedom of expression and freedom of association. The new law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction raises concerns with regard to possible restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders and civil society.

The legal and institutional framework governing the security and intelligence sector remained unchanged with reinforced civilian oversight of the security forces under the presidential system.

Judicial System

The serious backsliding observed since 2016 continued. Concerns remained, in particular over the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and undue pressure on judges and prosecutors. The new human rights action plan envisages certain positive measures but it does not address any of the key shortcomings related to the independence of the judiciary. In particular, no measures are envisaged to improve respect for the principle of the separation of powers or to improve the structure and the selection process of members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, long outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the European Commission. Despite their acquittal, none of the judges or prosecutors dismissed following the coup attempt were reinstated. The lack of objective, merit-based, uniform and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors remains a source of concern.

Human and Fundamental Rights

The deterioration of human and fundamental rights continued. Many of the measures brought in during the state of emergency remain in force. The legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights but the legislation and practice still need to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law. Broad-scale restrictions imposed on the activities of journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders and critical voices continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of their freedoms and have led to self-censorship. Turkey’s refusal to implement ECtHR rulings, notably in the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, further increased concerns regarding the judiciary’s adherence to international and European standards. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention also put into question its commitment to such standards. The new human rights action plan, which promised reforms in a number of areas, does not address critical issues.

Serious backsliding continued on freedom of expression. Legislation and its implementation, especially national security and anti-terrorism provisions, continued to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards and to diverge from ECtHR case law. The dissemination of opposition voices and freedom of expression were negatively affected by the increasing pressure and restrictive measures. Criminal cases and convictions of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers, opposition politicians, students and social media users continued.

There was further serious backsliding in the area of freedom of assembly and association in light of recurrent bans, disproportionate interventions and excessive use of force in peaceful demonstrations, investigations, administrative fines and prosecutions against demonstrators on charges of terrorism- related activities. Legislation and its implementation are not in line with the Turkish Constitution.

The rights of the most disadvantaged groups and of persons belonging to minorities need better protection. Roma remained largely excluded from formal jobs and their living conditions severely deteriorated. Gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, in particular against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons are still a matter of serious concern.

23rd October Day of Action

Several groups across the country took Action in October.  In London we organized a demonstration which resulted in an extensive article with a link to the Amnesty report on Libya  in the Times of Malta which is a tremendous success. In Exeter there was an Action displaying paper boats sailed by famous refugees  outside Exeter Cathedral , Truro informed the public with a stall , York Amnesty produced a stunning Art display on the topic and in Scotland Amnesty student  groups of Glasgow Stirling and Edinburgh teamed up for a speaker event and actions. Please let us know of your Actions.

Best wishes from the Europe Team:- Turkey Chris Ramsey, Western and Northern Europe Jovana Bosnjak, the Balkans and Eastern Mediteranean  Rovena Tanazi,  Central Europe Ulrike Schmidt