Sir: Tomorrow (7 October) will mark the anniversary of the murder of the courageous Russian journalist and writer Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building. A thorn in the side of the Russian authorities, Politkovskaya suffered harassment and threats for years before her death, and was therefore supported in her work by PEN, the international writers' association. Now we and her colleagues around the world feel a duty to ensure another year should not pass without her killers being brought to justice.
Though 10 suspects were arrested in August 2007, none has yet been charged and the case remains unresolved. Statements by the Russian Prosecutor General that the killings were masterminded by people living overseas have been greeted with the scepticism they deserve, and suggest that the political will to investigate fully who ordered Politkovskaya's killing is lacking. Official secrecy and the leaking of conflicting information surrounding the case are further discrediting the investigations. English PEN maintains that the successful prosecution of those who committed and ordered Politkovskaya's murder is necessary to demonstrate that critics cannot be violently silenced with impunity.
Politkovskaya's case is also emblematic of the dangers facing independent writers and journalists in Russia. The Committee to Protect Journalists states that there have been 13 "contract killings" of Russian journalists since President Vladimir Putin came to power, yet only three have resulted in arrests and trials.
Now, prosecution of authors under vague provisions of Russia's new anti-extremism law is having a chilling effect on the freedom to write. Anna Politkov-skaya would be reporting on these court cases were she still alive; in her absence, and with independent Russian media under acute pressure, we hope The Independent will play its part in maintaining international coverage of such events and the Politkovskaya murder investigation.
DR ALASTAIR NIVEN
President, English PENHAROLD PINTERVice President, English PENCAROLE SEYMOUR-JONESChair, English PEN Writers in Prison Committee, London EC1
Proud tradition of refugee policy
Sir: We have a proud tradition in Britain of giving genuine refugees protection, and we do so through one of the most effective asylum systems in the world.
The Border and Immigration Agency expects staff to act with integrity and professionalism, including those who work for our private-sector contractors. Any allegations of misconduct are rigorously investigated by the police, and the vast majority of asylum-seekers are treated with care and compassion.
If, as claimed in your front-page article on 5 October, The Independent has evidence of mistreatment we would expect it to be provided to the police and the Border and Immigration Agency for investigation.
Your article inaccurately claims that we remove those seeking asylum in the UK. This is not the case. In terms of asylum, the only people we seek to remove are those whose asylum claims have failed and who have exhausted the independent appeals process.
While awaiting a decision, which the majority of claimants receive within 30 days, asylum-seekers have access to NHS healthcare, housing and independent legal representation.
Where an application fails, we expect people to return home voluntarily. To ease this transition, we offer both support and a financial package to help them resettle.
Unfortunately, not everyone accepts our decision, and in these cases we will enforce the removal of those who do not genuinely need our protection.
Director of Enforcement, Border and Immigration Agency, London SW1
Sir: I am writing to thank you for highlighting the shocking treatment of asylum-seekers in this country. I am aware of several of the cases mentioned in your article and have joined campaigns to support the individuals concerned.
This issue has been "out of sight, out of mind and out of control" for far too long and I am appalled by the Government's lack of understanding and compassion when deciding the fate of some of the most vulnerable people.
It is outrageous that "failed" asylum-seekers are being forcibly deported to countries where they almost certainly face further persecution merely to enable the Home Office to reach arbitrary, self-imposed targets.
Loosley Row, Buckinghamshire
Sir: Your welcome coverage of the abuse meted out to people being deported from Britain claims the Government "turns a blind eye". Credence is given to this claim by ministers who seem extremely unwilling to visit Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire.
This prison has an "operational capacity" of 405 men, women and children. Families and individuals are taken here prior to deportation.
In February this year, Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights that he had "not yet had a chance to go to Yarl's Wood". He was appointed in May 2006, and nine months later had still not been to see the situation for himself.
It is as well that The Independent highlights the plight and abuse of people caught in this terrible industry because the Government is determined not to see it.
Engineering the planet
Sir: The planet has been changing long before we humans started messing with the atmosphere. If we want a constant environment and no climate change we will have to engineer the planet.
Geoengineering can also mean making practical use of the subsurface.
Storing the CO2 extracted from fossil-fuel power stations in rock strata is one way that we can help get through the transition phase to energy without side-effects.
Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Sir: It is ironic that so many have taken a stubborn stand, holding to an international cap and trade system as the only solution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, ("Bush's voluntary targets for emissions fail to win support", 29 October).
Simply put, the Kyoto Protocol isn't working. The European Environmental Agency's latest projections show that without strong new measures, the EU-15's greenhouse gas emissions will be 7.4 per cent above 1990 levels in 2010, not 8 per cent below as required by Kyoto.
If the major EU countries were to actually meet their emission reduction targets under Kyoto, the economic costs would be high, more than 3 per cent of GDP in 2010, according to the economic research firm Global Insight, Inc. This is hardly a sound model for an international agreement. Energy security and environmental protection go hand in hand with economic growth. To be successful on these fronts, international partnerships encouraging investment with profit potential in electricity generation from clean fossil energy, nuclear power, renewable energy and in distributed generation and transmission will provide the necessary incentives to bring developing nations and big carbon emitters to the table to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr Margo Thorning
Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council for Capital Formation, Washington DC
Western democracy is not for all
Sir: It is almost incredible how many lazy stereotypes can be expressed in one sentence.
P Edwards (letter, 1 October) speculates that the "not-in-my-name brigade" would denounce any British intervention in Burma, Zimbabwe or Darfur: "It seems odd to me that those who purport to champion freedom and human rights for all are often to be heard, in the next breath, telling us that you simply cannot force Western-style democracies on those foreign types because they're not ready for it."
Western-style democracy is not the be-all and end-all in systems of governance. People should be free to choose what works for them.
People who are wary about our governments intervening are wise, because Western governments are far more likely to undermine democracy than to support and nurture it. The tragic histories of countries such as Vietnam and Chile, or nascent nations like East Timor, are a horrific testament to that record.
Despite a life-time of involvement with left-wing friends, family and organisations, I have never heard anybody say, "You simply cannot force Western-style democracies on those foreign types because they're not ready for it".
It strikes me as a sentiment made up by non-liberals as a stick with which to beat liberals, like those "barmy EU regulations" stories so beloved of the tabloid press.
Happy with our metric mixture
Sir: The miles/kilometres problem has nothing to do with British eccentricity, as suggested by John Shepherd (letter, 3 October). It is simply that measurements are part of language, and language is part of culture. The British have become metrically bilingual, and hurrah for that.
It is extraordinary that having different words in different languages is celebrated as central to cultural identity, but having two ways of expressing distance is not. As a historian, I have no difficulty in working in metric or imperial, whichever is more appropriate; and neither does a young mother who quotes her baby's weight in pounds, then buys a kilogramme of fish.
What's the problem? Our bilingual success should be celebrated, not denigrated.
Sir: John Shepherd suggests that metrication doesn't work for the British because it runs contrary to our eccentricity. Curiously, this echoes the strictures of Napoleon on the metric system when he said, "Nothing is more contrary to the organisation of the mind, memory and imagination". In fact, metrication should appeal equally to the continental urge to fit everything into grandiose and abstract rational schemes, and to another quality the British also claim, pragmatism.
Metrication has had a bumpy ride in the UK, and had a cool reception when first tried in France, doubtless because of a more universal human quality: we like what we know. I was educated in metric and have only a shaky grasp of imperial, but tend to use imperial units in conversation. Those metres and grammes sound too clinical and spuriously exact for everyday speech.
Thank heavenfor fish food
Sir: Richard Dawkins is obviously fond of satire (letter, 1 October). Perhaps he will like this too: Two goldilocksfish are swimming in a bowl. One says: "If there is no God, how come: 1) the temperature in here is just right; 2) food arrives regularly; 3) the water gets cleaned?"
The second goldilocksfish (who happens to be a Professor for the Goldilocksfish Understanding of Science) replies: "It is probable that we live in a multiverse that contains an astronomically large number of fish-bowls. Most of those bowls will be completely lifeless. The fact that we are here able to discuss the matter means that we are fortunate to live in one of the tiny number of bowls capable of sustaining evolved life. In the words of the old song: We're here because we're here, because we're here!"
Sir: Congratulations to the Curtis family for building, and selling, the most environmentally friendly self-built home in the UK (article, 3 October). It all sounds impressive and worthy but can anyone tell me how much of a carbon footprint a family of eight children makes?
Sir: My sympathies to Brian Revell of Unite ("Union slams Cadbury's shift to Poland", 4 October), but Cadbury is not "Britain's most respected chocolate manufacturer". Their product is disgusting, containing so little cocoa solid that it is arguably not chocolate at all, and I am embarrassed it is considered British. The sooner they move all their production to Poland the better.
Isle of Lewis, Western Isles
The 'grab' society
Sir: Most sinister to me among the present crop of misused words (letter, 4 October) is "grab". It has now replaced fetch, pick up, collect, take, get, buy and any other word along these lines. The OED definition is "seize suddenly and roughly" and "a quick, sudden clutch or attempt to seize". The word suggests getting something for yourself at all costs, regardless of others or their needs. It is no wonder that the small decencies of life are being eroded, and with them our social cohesion.
The England card
Sir: M Taylor (letter, 4 October) should be more careful with the advice he gives to the Tory Party. Playing the "English" card may give the Tories only a short-term fix. They would probably manage an almost permanent majority in an English parliament, shored up by voters mainly in the South and affluent areas in the Midlands. How long the predominantly Labour North would suffer this state of affairs is questionable, considering the shameful media neglect of flood-stricken Sheffield and Hull during the summer. It isn't just Scotland that could eventually leave the union.
East Didsbury, Manchester
Sir: New £20 notes are coming into circulation with remarkable speed, replacing many of the older design still in good condition. Would it be too much to ask those in the banking world who direct such things to also do something about bringing in new £5 notes? Many of the specimens doing the rounds in our tills, purses, wallets and collecting tins can be described only as DUDD: Disgusting, Unhygienic, Dirty and Disintegrating.