Article by Dennis Sewell
The following year Amnesty produced a 1,000-page legal brief aimed at persuading the authorities in Canada to arrest the former US president George W Bush, who happened to be on a short visit, for alleged war crimes in Iraq. Once again they had turned full circle. The organisation founded to get people out of jail was now trying to get someone locked up.
And releasing prisoners seems no longer such a big priority anyway. Take a quick peek at Amnesty’s websites today and you will find that prisoners of conscience are sidelined by big campaigns not just on issues you might expect such as torture or the death penalty but on arms control; the Middle East; LGBT rights; gender issues; migrant rights; surveillance; policing in Ferguson, Missouri; and access to emergency contraception and abortion services.
The Catholic Church had seen this latter one coming as early as 2006, and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales tried to head it off at the pass. But Amnesty refused to back down and in 2007 the late Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, who had been an Amnesty member for 31 years, led a long procession of Catholics out the door. In the following months Amnesty branches in Catholic parishes were closed down after a nudge from the hierarchy.