July 6, 2015

Victory: European Parliament Decides Against Hiding Torture

Well done everyone – after more than 5,000 letters and targeted pressure at key members of the European Parliament we’ve managed to overturn a ban on an exhibition evidencing Syrian war crimes [1]. It’s an important victory because we need these politicians to see what is happening in Syria. If they refuse to even witness the human rights violations, what hope is there for them to make them stop? (If you don’t know what these 55,000 “Caesar” photos are, here’s a great piece in last month’s Vanity Fair).

As a relative of one of the victims in the photos said:

“I support exposing the sheer brutality of these torture methods and revealing the truth of what is happening every minute in Syria. This is an urgent matter. It’s not a game. And European politicians can exert pressure to end it.”

Thanks again for everything that you do. If you’re on Twitter, please tweet a message of thanks to the European President Martin Schulz, who personally reviewed the pictures as a result of the campaign.

People sometimes ask what happens behind the scenes in these campaigns, so here’s how we got to this victory:

  • Two weeks ago we learned that a committee within the European Parliament had decided to ban an exhibition of Syrian torture pictures. These photos had been smuggled out in memory sticks hidden in the shoes of a former military photographer – a whistleblower codenamed “Caesar”. The European committee had deemed the pictures “offensive and disturbing”

  • However, these pictures had been shown at the United Nations in New York, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and at the US Congress. The European Parliament has also exhibited pictures from the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust previously, so graphic pictures was no excuse. We wanted politicians to see the reality of what is ongoing in Syria

  • We knew the decision to ban the exhibition was made by a small committee of parliamentarians but we also knew that the president of the parliament, Martin Schulz, could overrule them or ask them to review their decision

  • We spoke to families of some of the victims in the Caesar pictures and they urged us – and the politicians – to make this exhibition happen. One of the relatives said “I am one hundred percent for showing these pictures because this is a criminal regime which relies on camouflaging its own crimes and hiding them from the outside word. If the European Parliament is so concerned about people’s feelings, shouldn’t they care about what those people felt before they died under torture or what their parents felt when they saw the pictures? Those are the feelings it should be worried about.”

  • As a result, we sent an action alert out to you and 60,000 others who are signed up to The Syria Campaign (you can join here if you’ve been forwarded this email) leading to over 5,000 emails sent directly to Martin Schulz himself and the MEP committee who issued the original ban

  • More than 1,100 tweets were sent on the #hidingtorture hashtag and together we tweeted over 270 individual MEPs, using a simple little tool and the energy of many Twitter volunteers (special thanks to @rzellwegerHI, @zeanabito, @murhaf, @verobellin, @kenanrahmani, @fairtirade, @stephenalbert11, @amahoro061, @my_god_is_a_vow, @alexqueliz, @mariyapesaleli, @fanadgoodwin and others for volunteering their time)

  • The office team wrote to every MEP directly – twice – urging them to use their influence with Martin Schulz to overturn the ban. Many were extremely sympathetic to the campaign including the head of the second largest political group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which represents 190 MEPs. They said they would take the matter up directly with the president

  • Hania, The Syria Campaign’s press officer, spoke to as much of the media as she could, focusing on Germany (where Martin Schulz is from) and helped get coverage in the country’s biggest tabloid, Bild.

  • After all of this pressure we were contacted by a representative from Schulz’s office indicating they were now keen to make the official exhibition happen – result!

These pictures will now be exhibited at the European Parliament between the 13th and 16th of July and we’ll be following up with MEPs to make sure as many of them as possible see it. As one of the diplomats who saw the exhibition at the UN said, “nobody who sees these images will ever be the same”. Bearing witness is of course not enough though. We now need to make sure European politicians turn their concern into concrete action to stop the violence in Syria.

Well done again on making this happen. If you’re on Facebook you can share the news here.