The ‘24’ effect: A third of Britons think torture can be justified

Poll by Amnesty shows nearly half of British people reject the idea of a global ban on torture

Almost a third of Britons think torture can be justified in certain circumstances, according to “alarming” new research which highlights how TV programmes such as 24 and Homeland have glamourised the abuse of detainees.

The poll by Amnesty International found 36 per cent of Britons believed “torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public”. Just 25 per cent of Russians share the same view – although in China the figure is 74 per cent.

In addition, 44 per cent of Britons reject the idea that there should be a global ban on torture. This despite the fact that the use of torture, as defined by the UN convention against torture and other inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, has been subject to a 30-year global ban ratified by 155 countries.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “These findings are alarming. We didn’t foresee this sort of response from people in the UK and it shows we have a lot of work to do.

“It looks from these results like we have placed panic over principle. People have bought into the idea that their personal safety can be enhanced through the use of torture. That is simply untrue.”

“Programmes like 24, Homeland and Spooks have glorified torture to a generation – but there’s a massive difference between a dramatic depiction by screenwriters and its real-life use by government agents in torture chambers.”

The findings formed part of a report by Amnesty International which found the use of torture to be “flourishing around the world”. The charity has recorded 27 different kinds of torture and other cruel treatments in 79 countries this year, including electric shocks, rape, water-boarding and mock executions.

During the past five years, torture and other forms of ill-treatment have been recorded in more than 141 countries from every region in the world, with victims including women and children.

Nigeria, Mexico, the Philippines, Uzbekistan and Morocco/Western Sahara were highlighted as repeat offenders in the report.

According to a poll of 21,000 people across 21 countries, 44 per cent of the world’s population feared they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their own country. Confidence rates among Britons were the highest of any country with 83 per cent feeling confident they were not at risk from the authorities in the UK.

Amnesty International’s secretary-general Salil Shetty claimed: “Torture is not just alive and well – it is flourishing in many parts of the world.

“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture – prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice.”

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