Beyond Kaminski

Have we forgotten the Latvians and the rest?

Has the Kaminski brouhaha distracted us from the bigger picture? The Tory blogosphere may want us to change the subject and move on, but the reality is that the cuddly Cameroonian Conservatives remain allied, in Brussels, with a bunch of whackjobs, loons and bigots. Will Straw has the details. Does David Cameron, for example, know that the Lijst Dedecker in Belgium includes an MP who has -- in a manner reminiscent of the BNP's Nick Griffin -- described Islam as a "cancer" and called for "global chemotherapy" against it? Does Cameron even care?

Perhaps most shameful of all are the Tories' new allies from Latvia, the For Fatherland and Freedom (LNNK) party, whose sole MEP, Robert Zile, sits in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, and even attended the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

The Tories have been keen to defend this controversial party, which honours Latvia's Waffen SS veterans each year with an annual parade in the capital city, Riga, on 16 March. The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, and the party's chairman, Eric Pickles, have both condemned Labour and the Lib Dems for recycling "old Soviet smears" and "endorsing Soviet propaganda" against the Latvians. Hague and Pickles have claimed that the so-called Lettish Legion consisted of conscripts and that the parade is a mainstream and official event.

This, however, has been refuted and disproved by, among others, the journalist Peter Beaumont (the Observer's award-winning foreign affairs editor) and the Israeli historian Efraim Zuroff (from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre). Up to a third of the Latvian SS region were volunteers -- and deeply implicated in the Second World War-era massacres of Riga's Jews. Moreover, the 16 March parade is not an officially sanctioned event and, says Beaumont, "When the head of Latvia's armed forces participated in the march, Latvia's parliament voted to have him removed from his position."

The Speccie's Rod Liddle -- not normally a man I agree with! -- summed up the situation early this month:

It is not the slightest use Eric Pickles insisting that Latvians who fought for the Waffen SS -- who were honoured by the party in question -- were merely patriots and that to argue otherwise is a Soviet slur, because it is simply not the case. Further, presentationally, the words "Waffen SS" have, historically, tended to have a negative impact upon the British voter. The man in the street associates the phrase -- perhaps wrongly -- with all manner of bother, all kinds of horribleness. Also, it is the sort of phrase which sits uncomfortably with the notion of "caring Conservatives", even caring Conservatives who are going to freeze the wages of everybody except bankers as soon as they take office. How did they allow themselves to get into this position, then? Either through stupidity or principle, one supposes. I am not sure which of the two is worse.

It is not David Miliband who owes the Tories -- or the Poles, or the Latvians -- an apology; it is Hague and Pickles who owe all of us an apology: for aiding and abetting in the rehabilitation of the Waffen SS while presenting false and inaccurate information in defence of their absurd and amoral position.

Note: Before the Tory trolls descend on this blog to feign outrage and disgust and point to Labour's dodgy allies in the European Parliament, let me remind them (again!) that Labour, unlike the Conservatives, did not go out seeking new allies and new groupings. Nor is the Party of European Socialists, to which Labour belongs -- unlike the European Conservatives and Reformists, to which the Tories belong -- dominated by bigots, weirdos and extremists on the far-right fringe of European politics. Is that clear?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The government must demand that Iran release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iran's imprisonment of my constituent breaches the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I grew up with a very paranoid mother. She had tragically lost members of her family as a teenager and, as a result, she is extremely fearful when it came to her children. I used to laugh at her growing up – I indulged it but often scoffed at her constant need to hear from us.

A few days ago, I was in Parliament as normal. My husband, his parents and our baby daughter were all in Parliament. This rare occasion had come about due to my mother in law’s birthday – I thought it would be a treat for her to lunch in the Mother of Parliaments!

The division bells rang half way through our meal and I left them to vote, grabbing my phone of the table. “See you in ten minutes!” I told them. I didn’t see them for more than five hours.

The minute the doors bolted and the Deputy Speaker announced that we were indefinitely being kept safe in the chamber, all I could think about was my daughter. In my heart of hearts, I knew she was safe. She was surrounded by people who loved her and would protect her even more ferociously than I ever could.

But try explaining that to a paranoid mother. Those five hours felt like an eternity. In my head, I imagined she was crying for me and that I couldn’t be there for her while the building we were in was under attack. In reality, I later found out she had been happily singing Twinkle Twinkle little star and showing off her latest crawl.

That sense of helplessness and desperate impatience is hard to describe. I counted down the minutes until I could see her, as my imagination ran away with me. In those 5 hours, I started thinking more and more about my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Here I was, temporarily locked in the Parliamentary chamber, surrounded by friends and colleagues and door keepers who were doing all they could to keep me safe. I knew I was going to be let out eventually and that I would be reunited with my daughter and husband within hours.

Nazanin has been detained in the notorious Evin prison in Iran for nearly a year. She only gets an occasional supervised visit with her two-year-old daughter Gabriella. She’s missed Christmas with Gabriella, she missed Gabriella’s second birthday and no doubt she will be missing Mother’s Day with Gabriella.

But it’s not just the big occasions, it’s the everyday developments when Gabriella learns a new song, discovers a new story, makes a new friend. Those are the important milestones that my mother never missed with me and the ones I want to make sure I don’t miss with my daughter.

Unfortunately, Nazanin is just one of many examples to choose from. Globally there are more than half a million women in prison serving a sentence following conviction, or are awaiting trial. Many of these women are mothers who have been separated from their children for years.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Bangkok Rules - the first international instrument to explicitly address the different needs that female prisoners have. It was also the first instrument to outline safeguards for the children of imprisoned mothers.

The Bangkok Rules apply to all women prisoners throughout all stages of the criminal justice system, including before sentencing and after release. However, Nazanin’s case has seen a wilful flouting of the rules at each and every stage.

Rule 23 states that ‘Disciplinary sanctions for women prisoners shall not include a prohibition of family contact, especially with children’. Tell that to her daughter, Gabriella, who has barely seen her mother for the best part of a year.

Rule 26 adds that women prisoners’ contact with their families shall be facilitated by all reasonable means, especially for those detained in prisons located far from their homes. Tell that to her husband, Richard, who in almost a year has only spoken to his wife via a few calls monitored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and supported the Bangkok Rules, yet it is breaching both with its treatment of Nazanin. It is therefore incumbent upon our government to take the formal step of calling for Nazanin's release - it is staggering they have not yet done so.

As I pass the window displays in shops for Mother’s Day, most of the cards have messages centred around ‘making your mother happy’. If there’s one mother I’d like to make happy this year, it’s Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn