On February 7, 2010, the Sunday Times (UK) reported that Amnesty International suspended Gita Sahgal, head of its Gender Unit, for criticizing Amnesty’s alliance with Moazzam Begg, an alleged supporter of the Taliban. Amnesty’s response was widely condemned, including by author Salman Rushdie and columnist Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens called the “degeneration and politicization” of Amnesty “a moral crisis that has global implications,” and urged Amnesty members to withhold their funding. Amnesty promised an “internal inquiry” into the Sahgal suspension.
In an official response (February 28, 2010) to the “Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights,” (750,012 signatures), Amnesty’s (interim) Secretary General Claudio Cordone defended Begg, stating that “jihad in self-defence” is not “antithetical to human rights.” The organization previously claimed it had collaborated with Begg because he is a “compelling speaker” and because of its commitment to “upholding the universality of human rights.”
Begg was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002. Begg’s past activities include Islamist activism and alleged support for the Taliban government. His organization Cageprisoners is associated with radical Islamist figures and thought.
Amnesty’s total rejection of criticism and its affiliations that oppose human rights values are reminiscent of Human Rights Watch’s response to the Garlasco affair, its controversial fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia, and other scandals.