2 JUNE 1961, Page 5

All Those in Favour

By BERNARD LEVIN With which cautious attitude I went to the Charing Cross Hotel at the beginning of this week for the launching of 'Appeal for Amnesty, 1961,' and I may say that my hopes for this new outfit were not precisely raised in advance by the fact that one of the sponsors was said (in the information I was sent by the organisers) to be `Ludovic Kennedy, MP.' I have written before about the harmful effect of this kind of howler on one's feelings of sympathy for worthy causes, and I daresay I shall write about it again, especi- ally if 'Appeals for Amnesty' continues to insist that it stands for the 'acceptance of Voltaire's dictum: "I detest your views, but am prepared to die for your right to express them",' for Voltaire did not say this, or anything like it.

However. The respectability of the organisa- tion was vouched for by the presence on the plat- form of a Conservative MP (Mr. John Foster, QC), a Labour MP (Mr. F. Elwyn Jones, QC, and as aufgeblasen a speaker as I have heard since I stopped going regularly to the House of Commons), and a Liberal MP, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe. Also at hand was Mr. Peter Benenson, who is, I understand, the father of the idea, along with other lawyers connected with that excellent and hard-headed organisation, 'Justice.' There was tea, there was cake, there was the distinguished Hungarian writer, Mr. Paul Ignotus. There was any amount of goodwill. What exactly was it all about, and what is likely to come of it?

Briefly, 'Appeal for Amnesty' aims to work for the release of Prisoners of Conscience, and for guarantees of Freedom of Opinion and Religion (the organisers' capitals) in all countries. They will urge fair and public trial for those charged with offences of conscience; Governments to review regularly the restraints imposed upon those whose opinion or religion is unacceptable; Governments to allow Prisoners of Conscience to seek Asylum abroad, when unprepared to release them at home; agreement of an effective international con- vention on the Right of Asylum; freedom to work in the country of Asylum for all Refugees of Conscience; the establishment of a special Employment Office for Refugees of Conscience in countries granting Asylum; all members of the Council of Europe to ratify the European Convention of Human Rights, and to accept the article giving their citizens direct access to the European Commission of Human Rights; other groups of friendly countries to establish similar supra-national machinery to enforce Human Rights; the speed-up of deliberations at the United Nations to reach agreement on effective measures to implement the Universal Declara- tion of Human Rights.

After which, let us recover our breath, so much excellent high-mindedness having left us somewhat short of it, and see how Appeal, for Amnesty is to set about achieving these wholly admirable aims. It plans to work at first by focus- ing attention not so much on the general principles as on individual prisoners who are suffering for their beliefs. This is a promising start, too many of these organisations spend their time beating the air with swords fashioned into platitudes. To keep names in the forefront of' a campaign makes an excellent burning-glass for the indignation it relies on for support. What is more, as you would expect from an organisation which is non-party (and, indeed, non-political), the prisoners chosen range in their views from Left to Right, and the governments imprisoning them from Right to .Left. Appeal for Amnesty will work for the release of Mr. Tony Ambatielos, the Greek Communist imprisoned since 1945 in Greece, as well as for that of Mr. Istvan Bibo, imprisoned by the Hungarian Government since 1957 for his part in Imre Nagy's Government.

So far, so good. It is difficult to see what notice the Kadar Government, the Verwoerd Govern- ment or the Karamanlis Government is go- ing to take of Appeal for Amnesty that they will not take of, say, the United Nations. But such a campaign will concentrate its resources, channel protests, keep alive hopes that might otherwise

die, and above all speak up impartially for all prisoners of conscience, of whatever persuasion. But it is precisely here that the campaign's chief weakness is exposed. When 1 asked the

admirable Mr. Foster what precautions the cam- paign would be taking to ensure that it was not used by those who, for political reasons, favoured the release of some of the prisoners on the list although they would be strongly against the release of others (the Communists who want to release that democratic defender of the working- class Mr. Tony Ambatielos, for instance, would be horrified at any attempt to release the

capitalist lickspittle Fascist reactionary Istvan Bibo), he made it clear that the answer was none at all. Each individual and organisation, he said, would be free to campaign in any way it chose on behalf of any prisoner of conscience; in that way, he hoped, the sum total of campaigning would add up to the campaign's general aims of speaking for all prisoners of conscience.

But of course it won't. When Mr. Foster announced that Mrs. Ambatielos would not be coming to the meeting after all because she thought it best to concentrate on conditions in one country at a time, he clearly knew (judging by his embarrassed mien) that he was talking nonsense; the reason Mrs. Ambatielos did not attend was that it might have implied Com- munist 'indifferentism,' or even support for the release of those imprisoned by governments of Ambatielos's persuasion. But of course the Com- munists will use Appeal for Amnesty unscrupu- lously, implying that it is behind them in their efforts to get Ambatielos and his like released (which of course it will, quite properly, be) with- out mentioning the others on whose behalf the organisation will be working. The effect of this will be, as it always is where non-Communist organisations that admit Communist help are concerned, that it will inevitably become suspect, to some extent, in the eyes of those who would be inclined to support the campaign's aims over the whole spectrum.

Nevertheless, its function as a collector and dis- seminator of information is wholly to the good; its clear refusal to take sides on the political issues involved in these 'conscience' imprison- ments is good, too; and as a means of helping people otherwise inarticulate to protest and work against injustice it should prove useful.