Tuesday, July 5, 2011

English PEN: Cameroonian playwright Lydia Besong's claim for asylum in the UK turned down

Cameroon/UK: Playwright refused asylum

In December 2009, English PEN joined the campaign on behalf of Cameroonian playwright Lydia Besong and her husband, human rights campaigner Bernard Batey, who had been told to leave the UK and return to Cameroon.

We were very sorry to learn that their fresh claim for asylum has since been turned down by the UKBA and a subsequent appeal refused, and that now an application for leave to appeal to the High Court has also been unsuccessful.

Campaigners for Lydia and Bernard have launched an appeal to raise funds for a judicial review of their case. The couple's numerous supporters are also being urged to write immediately to the Home Secretary and to their local MP asking that Lydia and Bernard be given leave to remain in the UK, and we would urge you to do the same. You will find two sample letters below, although please do write a more personal letter if you have time, and please do send us copies for our records.

Please also take a moment to sign the petition to support Lydia and Bernard's right to stay in the UK, and urge the Home Office to reverse the decision to refuse them asylum.

For more information on their case, please see the press release below:


CAMPAIGNERS FOR PLAYWRIGHT LYDIA BESONG LAUNCH APPEAL FUND FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

Campaigners for playwright Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey have launched an appeal to raise funds for a judicial review of their case. The couple's numerous supporters are also being urged to write immediately to the Home Secretary asking that Lydia and Bernard be given leave to remain in the UK.

Their fresh claim for asylum was turned down by the UKBA and a subsequent appeal refused. And now an application for leave to appeal to the High Court has also been turned down.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: "This is a clear human rights issue. Lydia and Bernard have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured in Cameroon for their membership of the Southern Cameroon National Council, a peaceful political party.

"Only last month, Amnesty International published a report saying that members of the SCNC still face arrest and imprisonment. Lydia is well known as both as a political activist and as a playwright. Their lives would be in grave danger if they were to be returned to Cameroon."

Last year, Lydia was held in detention for four weeks over the Christmas period and she and Bernard were threatened with deportation. The flight was halted by a High Court judge and the UKBA said their case would be reviewed.

In Cameroon, Lydia taught English and English Literature and Bernard ran his own business. They were forced to leave their home because of their membership of the SCNC, which campaigns for the rights of the English speaking minority of Southern Cameroon. The couple were imprisoned and tortured in Cameroon, they faced beatings and Lydia was raped by a uniformed prison guard. They have both been traumatised by these experiences and are subject to severe depression.

Amnesty International's most recent report, published last month, says the Government in Cameroon continues to attempt to silence critics of its policies. "The Government continues to curtail the activities of the SCNC, a non violent secessionist group whose members face arrest and imprisonment."

A writer in Cameroon was recently released after being held in extremely harsh prison conditions for six months after writing a book about the president's wife.

Lydia has written three plays, one of which is critical of President Paul Biya, who has ruled for 28 years. Her play "How I Became an Asylum Seeker" has been performed in Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and London. In London, she shared a platform with actor Juliet Stevenson in a discussion around issues raised by the play. Juliet Stevenson has publicly supported Lydia's campaign.

Lydia and Bernard received strong backing from their former Rochdale MP Paul Rowen who said he knew their case well and believed there was a "real and substantial danger to Ms Besong and Mr Batey should they be returned to Cameroon."

The couple lived in Rochdale for three years before being re-housed in Bury. They have widespread support in both communities and also in Manchester where they have worked as volunteers for human rights organisations. They are valued members of the congregation at St Ann's Church, Belfield, Rochdale, and the Bishop of Manchester has spoken out publicly on their behalf.

Members of English PEN, the organisation which campaigns for writers and playwrights internationally, have also backed Lydia and Bernard's fight to remain in the UK.

The Lydia and Bernard Must Stay Campaign spokesperson added: "This couple are an asset to the community of Greater Manchester. It is a sad reflection on our society if we cannot give refuge to people who have been persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

For more information, please contact:

Kath Grant
kath.northernstories@googlemail.com
07812471047


[SAMPLE LETTER TO THE HOME SECRETARY]

Rt. Hon Theresa May, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office,
2 Marsham St London SW1 4DF
Fax: 020 8760 3132
Email: mayt@parliament.uk

[Date]

Dear Ms May,

Re: Lydia Besong & Bernard Batey, HO Ref: B1236372/3

I am writing to urge you to re-examine the case of Lydia Besong and Bernard Batey, two human rights campaigners from Cameroon who have had their claim for asylum and subsequent appeal turned down. An application for leave to appeal to the High Court has recently been refused.

Lydia and Bernard sought asylum in the UK on 18/12/06. Their asylum claim is based on their activities with the Southern Cameroon National Council, a peaceful political organisation that campaigns for the rights of the English-speaking minority of Southern Cameroon. In Cameroon, both Lydia and Bernard suffered beatings and imprisonment as a result of their involvement with the SCNC and Lydia was raped by a uniformed guard. These experiences have left them both traumatised and subject to severe depression.

Lydia, who was an English teacher in Cameroon and has written three plays, including one which is critical of Cameroon president Paul Biya, was detained in Yarl's Wood IRC over Christmas last year and came within 72 hours of deportation. A campaign to gain her release saw an overwhelming response from people and communities across Greater Manchester and beyond, and a High Court judge granted an injunction to prevent their deportation from the UK.

At the time, Robert Sharp, the Campaigns Manager of English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers of which I am a member, said: "This is a blow for freedom of speech. With this detention, Lydia's fledgling literary career will be cut short. It is astonishing that the UK plans to deport someone who has been seeking refuge from a government that attacked her just for exercising her right to freedom of expression."

The chairman of the SCNC has since affirmed that Lydia and Bernard were active human rights practitioners in Cameroon and their human rights work in the UK stands as a testimony to that. Bernard and Lydia have worked tirelessly at RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seekers Participatory Action Research) and WAST (Women Asylum-Seekers Together) with refugees in similar situations to their own. They have also worked as volunteers with other charitable organisations and have been extremely active in their church community at St Ann's Church, Belfield, Rochdale, where they are valued members of the congregation.

Lydia and Bernard are supported by campaigners and friends throughout the UK. They have made many new friends in Bury, where they were re-housed just over a year ago. Many of their new friends are now supporting their campaign. The Bishop of Manchester and the actor Juliet Stevenson have both spoken publicly about their support for Lydia and Bernard.

I am urging you as Home Secretary to grant them both indefinite leave to remain so that they may continue to make a valuable contribution to our society.

Yours sincerely,

Name:

Address:


[SAMPLE LETTER TO YOUR LOCAL MP]

Dear ,

Re: Lydia Besong & Bernard Batey, HO Ref: B1236372/3

As one of your constituents and a member of English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers, I am writing to express my grave concerns over the asylum case of Ms Lydia Besong and Mr Bernard Batey and to ask you to contact their MP David Nuttall (Bury North) to offer your support in the couple's efforts to have their refugee status accepted.

Last year, Lydia was held in detention for four weeks over the Christmas period and she and her husband Bernard were threatened with deportation back to Cameroon. The flight was halted following an injunction granted by a High Court judge which prevented their deportation until new evidence regarding their case was reconsidered. Subsequently, the UK Border Agency turned down their new application and a tribunal judge backed this decision. Their application for leave to appeal to the High Court has now been refused.

In Cameroon, Lydia taught English and English Literature and Bernard ran his own business. They were forced to flee their home because of their membership of the Southern Cameroon National Council, a peaceful political party which campaigns for the rights of the English-speaking minority of Southern Cameroon. The couple faced beatings, imprisonment and torture in Cameroon and Lydia was raped by a uniformed prison guard. They have both been traumatised by these experiences and are subject to severe depression.

The US State Department has produced a report critical of human rights abuses in Cameroon. Amnesty International's most recent report on Cameroon, published 13 May 2011, says that the Government continues to attempt to silence critics of its policies, including journalists and human rights defenders. The current president Paul Biya has ruled for 28 years, presidential elections are scheduled for October this year and there are worries relating to the body overseeing the election and about potential instability in the run up to the election. The report also states that "The Government continues to curtail the activities of the SCNC (Southern Cameroon National Council), a non violent secessionist group whose members face arrest and imprisonment." Furthermore, security forces in Cameroon have still not been held to account for a number of human rights abuses committed two years ago.

Lydia and Bernard were backed by their former Rochdale MP Paul Rowen who knew their case well and said there was "a real and substantial danger to Ms Besong and Mr Batey should they be returned to Cameroon".

Last year Lydia worked with the RAPAR, the writers' organisation Commonword and Community Arts Northwest on a collection of stories about people in Manchester failed by the asylum system.

Just a week before she was detained, Lydia's play "How I Became An Asylum Seeker" was performed in front of a packed house at the Zion Theatre in Hulme, Manchester. The play was staged by Community Arts Northwest and performed by members of WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together). Lydia is a member of WAST's management committee and her extensive human rights work on their behalf has included campaigns for other women facing deportation.

Lydia's play has now been performed in London, Liverpool and Salford as well as in Manchester. In London, Lydia shared a platform with actor Juliet Stevenson and Guardian journalist Natasha Walter when they debated some of the issues raised in her play. Lydia has also written two other plays, one of which is extremely critical of President Biya.

As a member of the Leadership group of RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research), Bernard helped set up Manchester's first Voucher Exchange Network for people seeking asylum. He has also helped refugees and people seeking asylum through a project in Rochdale.

Lydia and Bernard lived in Rochdale for three years before being re-housed in Bury after Lydia was released from detention. Their widespread support includes the Rev Graham Lindley and parishioners at St Ann's Church in Belfield, Rochdale. The couple's campaign is also backed by English PEN, WAST, RAPAR, CAN, and other organisations and individuals - including the Bishop of Manchester and actor Juliet Stevenson who have both spoken publicly on their behalf.

Since being re-housed in Bury just over a year ago, Lydia and Bernard have made many new friends in their local community and they are all supporting their campaign.

Despite the enormous pressure on them, Lydia and Bernard have work hard to support and empower other asylum seekers in situations similar to their own. This couple are an asset to the community of Greater Manchester and their case is a basic human rights issue. It is a sad reflection on our society if we cannot give refuge to people who have been persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. As your constituent, I urge you to show your support by calling on MP David Nuttall and Home Secretary Theresa May to recognise Bernard and Lydia's human rights as refugees.

Yours Sincerely,

Name:

Address:

Source : English PEN

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