Gazette letters: Summer preview, young aren’t apathetic and support needed


- Credit: Archant

Two glorious days of sitting outside with friends, summer’s preview weekend was a real highlight of the year so far, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Pottering in my garden, the distinctive shriek of a ring-necked parakeet could be heard above all other birdsong. I have not come across them in Dalston before, but with their population increasing it was not surprising to look up and see a thin branch sagging beneath the weight of one of these fluoro-parrots. Its loud arrival gave the balmy evening a tropical charm.

Another feature of the warm weather was the large number of flying insects. Cycling past Barnard Park I stopped for a rest beneath a sycamore tree, the heat having made cycling up the hill more tiring than usual. Looking up into the canopy I could see a small chiffchaff hopping greedily from twig to twig, I wondered what it was feeding on. As my eyes gradually got used to looking up at the bright sky, dozens of hoverflies (and a few other kinds of fly too) came into focus, lazily hanging among the lower leaves. Watching them a while longer I saw how they would disappear into the foliage, perching on leaves to feed on the aphids so common in sycamore. Spend time watching near any tree and you will find an amazing and complex ecosystem.

Spring highlight this week: clumps of bluebells among the gravestones in Abney Park and in Clissold Park’s north-west corner.

Curtain Road last night hosted an evening of spoken word, music and speeches from young campaigners, youth leaders and politicians – perhaps surprising considering young people today are often categorised as the “apathetic generation”, writes Ella Guthrie, My Life My Say.

It was in aid of the “Better Brexit” launch – a campaign headed by youth-led organisation My Life My Say who are striving to make sure young people’s voices are heard during the Brexit negotiations.

It might sounds obvious – we, the youth, are going to have to live with whatever hard line Theresa May takes the longest, so we should somewhat take centre stage, but we’re under-represented. Focused on the single market and economic fallout, the only time I’ve really heard young people mentioned during the negotiations is on Erasmus, which doesn’t touch the sides on how much academic funding we receive from the EU. The only thing Westminster seems to enjoy talking about is our low voter turnout. (In fact, the youth turnout is now believed to be double what pollsters originally thought.)

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In reality, young people are active and engaged, yet our voices still routinely forgotten. Be it environmental policy or protecting our EU friends, we’re not lazy nor apathetic – we just need more platforms like this to discuss our opinions, knowing they’ll lead somewhere.

I had heard about people being sentenced to death in Iran for vague religious offences, but I never imagined one day it would happen to someone very close to me, writes Sara Saei, Hackney and Islington Amnesty group.

In the UK it is inconceivable sharing one’s spiritual ideas or world views could result in being kept in solitary confinement for six years and ultimately receiving the death penalty. But this is exactly what happened to my teacher.

A friend introduced me to Mohammad Ali Taheri’s classes in Tehran in 2008. He is the founder of a well-known spiritual doctrine in Iran. He openly held healing and self-realisation sessions at two reputable Iranian universities. He published several books and was allowed to deliver public speeches. But, as his audience grew, challenges against him began.

As government restrictions increased he was arrested twice in 2010 and 2011. After his second arrest under false charges, he was jailed for five years. In solitary confinement, he was interrogated about alleged heresy in his books and sentenced to death for spreading “corruption on Earth”.

I will never forget the evening of July 29, 2015, when the news was announced. The walls came tumbling down. I was shocked and speechless. Mr Taheri’s teachings had helped clear my depression, and now the Iranian regime had sentenced him to death on an outrageously vague, stupid charge.

The death sentence was to stop people questioning superstitions and traditional world views about religion. I could not believe how the judiciary system had completely neglected the 400,000 written and 200 video testimonies of people about Mr Taheri’s teachings healing methods. Under Iran’s extreme repression, nearly 200 people willingly recorded such video testimonies despite the risks of arrest and persecution.

We decided to do whatever it took to lift Mr Taheri’s death sentence by increasing public and international attention. So, despite frequent arrests, we as his students started to organise weekly peaceful protests at locations including in front of Evin Prison where he is being held.

I was arrested in one of these peaceful gatherings in November 2015, kept in solitary confinement for four nights and not allowed access to a lawyer or contact with my family. I was later sentenced to 91 days in prison and 74 lashes.

Eventually, after two months of campaigns, the Supreme Court was forced to lift the death sentence in December 2015. We hoped he would be released at the end of his five-year term in late 2016. But to our surprise he was tried for the same charge in February despite having been cleared in 2015! If convicted, he will be sentenced to death again!

It is important we support Iranian prisoners of conscience. Please sign the petition.