Ominous secret plan for a new wave of Baha'i persecution in Iran
Sir: Concern with Iran's nuclear status is overshadowing its human rights situation ("Iran announces it has joined world's nuclear nations", 12 April). As persons committed to the dignity of all human beings and the protection and guaranteeing of human rights, we are greatly concerned at the news announced on 20 March by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms Asma Jahangir.
The Special Rapporteur made public a confidential and official letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the chairman of the command headquarters of Iran's armed forces to several Iranian government agencies stating that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has instructed the command headquarters to identify and monitor, in a highly confidential manner, members of the Baha'i faith in Iran.
We share the deep concern of the Special Rapporteur about this development which represents an ominous new stage in the ongoing persecution of members of the Baha'i faith in Iran.
The UN has issued more than 56 pronouncements condemning Iran's execution and imprisonment of Baha'is, solely because of their membership of the Baha'i community, and criticising the overtly discriminatory treatment by Iran's government of this religious community since 1980.
Such comments have never before included a warning to the international community that the government of Iran is now seeking to identify and monitor every single member of the Baha'i faith. History tells us that this type of measure is often the precursor to increasing persecution of such a group.
Given the existing level of discrimination and persecution experienced by the Baha'is in Iran, we can only have considerable fear about what the new measure will mean in practice.
PROFESSOR KEVIN BOYLE
PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX PROFESSOR GUY S GOODWIN-GILL SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, ALL SOULS COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD PROFESSOR FRANCOISE HAMPSON OBE PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX PROFESSOR MATTHEW KRAMER PROFESSOR OF LEGAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE PROFESSOR JAVAID REHMAN PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL LAW BRUNEL UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR MALCOLM SHAW QC SIR ROBERT JENNINGS PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER PROFESSOR PATRICK THORNBERRY CMG PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL LAW KEELE UNIVERSITY
Armed Forces Bill attacks our rights
Sir: The proposed Armed Forces Bill introduces a tougher definition of desertion: soldiers who intend to avoid serving in a "military occupation of a foreign country or territory" can be imprisoned for life.
This major redrafting of military law has been introduced at a time when the number of soldiers absconding from the British Army has trebled since the invasion of Iraq. It's a clear attack on the growing movement of men and women in the military who refuse to be part of wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
It contravenes the Nuremberg Charter, which enshrined in international law the responsibility that each of us has to refuse to obey illegal and immoral orders from any government. At the same time, the Defence Secretary is urging that the Geneva Convention be rewritten to legalise pre-emptive military action.
The actions of this Government never cease to amaze me for their arrogance towards our hard-won rights and freedoms.
ROY ST PIERRE
Different way to see Darwinism
Sir: Thank you for "Keep faith out of science lessons" (second leader, 12 April) but why stop there? The corollary is that we should keep science out of faith lessons, such as economics, sociology and politics. These depend on value judgements which cannot be decided scientifically.
And should biologists teach that evolution is propelled by "the survival of the fittest"? As you put it, "What you should not be permitted to do is to teach this belief as self-evident".
It is a political slogan originating with Spencer whose message is that the biggest, strongest and most ruthless are top (dinosaurs rule, a mistaken faith intruding into science lessons?). A more scientifically accurate but less snappy summary of Darwinism would be "the survival of those who fit in best", which sends a different implicit message.
What we should not do is to allow creationists with mistaken beliefs about science, religion and the nature of the Bible to distract us from the fact that the most apparently powerful people and forces today are driven by equally mistaken beliefs whose consequences are more disastrous.
DR KEN WILKINSON
Sir: Ah, the quiet arrogant sanctimonious ignorance that comes from being a "person of faith". "People of faith remain more likely to give, volunteer, cook a meal for a neighbour, lead a charity, be happy, adjust successfully to ageing and vote", says Francis Davis (Letters, 10 April), with pious assurance. I know many atheists who do all of those things, me amongst them. And we do it not because we are "people of faith" but because we like our fellow men. And we don't need the promise of eternal bliss or 72 virgins or whatever to motivate us, just common humanity.
"Cook a meal for a neighbour"? Ask the "people of faith" in Ireland, India, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, the Sudan etc when they last did that.
All ministers use RAF planes
Sir: All Government ministers use RAF planes. But whereas Margaret Thatcher and John Major used the RAF planes for their holidays, Tony Blair stopped that in 2000. He has travelled on commercial flights on holiday since, apart from once in December 2004, when, after security advice, he and his family had to abandon their booked scheduled flight to Egypt and use the RAF plane. The "trip to Italy" you describe was a refuelling stop, since the RAF plane is small and travels much more slowly.
And figures show that Tory ministers in the last year (1996-97) of the Major government spent more - £7.2m - on overseas flights, than Labour ministers have spent in any single year since 1997.
PRESS OFFICER 10 DOWNING STREET, LONDON SW1
Football fans being priced out of games
Sir : The national newspapers' football correspondents are somewhat divorced from the rest of us poor paying punters at the turnstiles, enjoying free press passes to matches, an above-average salary and other expenses.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Sam Wallace's blithe justification for the ever-escalating nature of footballers' salaries (11 April) which failed to touch even once on the obvious link between the wage bills of clubs and the ticket prices they charge. In the 1970s and 1980s -- when football and cinema were comparable in terms of price - I could afford to follow my local league club every week, but now I am forced to pick and choose my games.
Many people on modest salaries are being priced out of attending matches regularly and football is in danger of cutting itself off from its grassroots if it allows players' wages to rise so rapidly.
ALAN J FISHER.
Blame the Scots and Welsh MPs
Sir: Your report (10 April) on the inconsistency of Shrewsbury Royal Hospital depriving patients resident in England of the latest anti-cancer drugs which are available to those resident in Wales shows up another unintended consequence of ill-thought through government legislation.
Similar inconsistencies are developing between England and the other nations of the UK in areas such as social care for the elderly, financing of students in higher education, and state subsidy of public transport.
It makes no odds to anyone working in Shrewsbury whether they commute from Telford or from Welshpool, but if you have children approaching tertiary education, parents likely to need a place in a care home, or a partner suffering the early stages of breast cancer, you would be foolish indeed not to make your residence in Wales.
The result is that house prices and rents rise in Wales relative to neighbouring parts of England, poorer people are forced out of the areas with the better social spending arrangements, and those the measures were mainly intended to support most lose out most.
It is not as if the English can do anything about this at the ballot box: most of the decisions resulting in these anomalies are made by Scottish ministers backed up by Scottish and Welsh MPs whose constituents are not affected by these measures.
What about all our literary greats?
Sir: The "white hole" in the centre of your "Literary Map of Britain" (11 April) is symptomatic of a dismissive attitude towards northern Warwickshire, no doubt on account of its 20th-century industrial history.
Where were Michael Drayton, George Eliot and Siegfried Sassoon? These writers drew inspiration from our local countryside. If we include Birmingham (once in Warwickshire) surely David Lodge should have been mentioned? And J R R Tolkien, as a child explored the Moseley Bog near his Birmingham home and immortalised it in his work.
Shakespeare may have come from Stratford-on-Avon, but in his day the focus of literary activity was 30 miles to the north in the Warwickshire village of Poles-worth. Here, Sir Henry Goodere was patron of a literary circle which included Michael Drayton, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and, for all we know, Shakespeare. Raphael Holinshed, whose work was a source for history plays, lived at Bramcote near by.
Sir: I was far from surprised to find a "Literary Map of Britain" with little reference to Wales or the Welsh. Were this map a score board, England (of course) would come in first place, with 37 points. Scotland would be second with a paltry 10, Northern Ireland a tiny two, and far behind would be sorry old Wales, with one, yes one claim to literary fame.
Our one and only mention to be Dylan Thomas smacks of laziness. Where is his namesake, R S Thomas? Where is Bruce Chatwin's On The Black Hill? (I agree Chatwin was not Welsh, but that novel is a major work.) Where is Alexander Cordell, The Mabinogion or Richard Llewellyn? And why oh why did Buckinghamshire get Roald Dahl when they already had John Milton?
Sir: You rightly put Philip Larkin in Hull, but he didn't "write his collection The Less Deceived there". All the poems in that book were written before he settled in Hull. And you omit The Whitsun Weddings, the collection of which Larkin himself said "the poems were written in or near Hull, Yorkshire, with a succession of Royal Sovereign 2B pencils during the years 1955 to 1963".
LOW THARSTON, NORFOLK
Sir: I'm sure I won't be the only one to inform you that Lynmouth on Exmoor was not the inspiration of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. It was far more likely to be the small port of Watchet on the Somerset coast, not far from Nether Stowey, with the church above the harbour mentioned in the poem and a statue of the Ancient Mariner on the seafront.
Nowhere to turn
Sir: I loved Joan Smith's tirade (12 April). But though it is absolutely right to characterise the Labour government as the Church of England at prayer, this is in a context where MPs of all parties are rotten with religion. Those of us who would prefer to vote for a robustly secular party have absolutely nowhere to turn.
Penalising the English
Sir: Q: When can you be English and not part of the EU? A: If you're an English student and applying to a Welsh university. The Welsh Assembly has reduced the fees payable to Welsh universities for all Welsh students from the standard £3,000 to £1,200. The remaining £1,800 will be paid by British taxpayers. This restricts freedom of movement of Welsh students for financial reasons, and forces others to pay more. That includes those who want veterinary studies because there is no course in Wales. And students from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU, but not England, will also only pay £1,200. Is this legal under the European Convention of Human Rights?
LINDFIELD, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: During the row over the new French labour law, youth unemployment in France was frequently referred to as running at 22 to 23 per cent. This was often followed by the statement that this was three times the British level. Constant repetition turned that figure into an accepted myth. The ILO shows officially that the population in France between 15 and 24 numbers 7.85 million. Just more than 600,000 are out work, a rate of 7.8 per cent. In the UK it is 7.4 per cent.
No plans to leave
Sir: I wish to make absolutely clear that, contrary to your report ("Garnett heads for the exit at GNER", 13 April), I have no plans to step down from my current position or to join any other transport company. Much of the rest of the story was either inaccurate or based on pure conjecture.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, GNER, LONDON N1
A selfless offer
Sir: It would be too much of an imposition on Alan Milburn for the Labour Party to take seriously his selfless suggestion that he may offer himself as a possible leader. Surely his self- proclaimed "need to spend more time with his young family" is far greater than the party's, or indeed the country's, need of him.
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