Festival protests go a long way towards explaining the feelings of vulnerability

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Your report “Jewish Community feels ‘more vulnerable’ under Police Scotland” (24 August) was interestingly juxtaposed with the commentary from Matt Hancock, UK Minister of State for Culture, in the same edition.

Mr Hancock points out that: “This month has seen people travel from far and wide for the Edinburgh Festival to enjoy some of the world’s best artists”. He rightly speaks of our country being “a cultural powerhouse”.

According to the non-profit, non-governmental human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) the promotion of culture, is, sadly, far from a priority elsewhere in the world. The organisation currently describes China as a one-party authoritarian state that systematically curbs fundamental rights, pointing out that the Chinese government has detained and prosecuted hundreds of activists and human rights defenders, whilst describing activism and peaceful criticism of the government as state security threats. It also catalogues the use of torture in police custody.

The Cuban government is accused of repressing dissent and discouraging public criticism. Other repressive tactics employed by the Cuban government include beatings, public acts of shaming and the termination of employment. In the Palestinian Territories, HRW reports that the Palestinian Authority has arrested students and activists allegedly for their political affiliation or because they expressed criticism. Hamas security forces also engage in torture and ill-treatment of people, including journalists.

In Syria HRW reports that violence has escalated amid an absence of meaningful efforts to end the war. The government and its allies have carried out deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, while incommunicado detention and torture remain rampant. In Zimbabwe, the government of President Robert Mugabe continues to violate human rights without regard to protections in the country’s new constitution.

It is a sad litany of abuse and inhuman treatment. Interestingly, what all these countries have in common – China, Cuba, Palestine, Syria and Zimbabwe, together with Russia, Georgia and Turkey – is that they all sent performers to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Incredibly, no one seemed to raise an eyebrow of concern or a murmur of protest. Opportunities to stage demonstrations, sit-ins, marches or silent vigils against some of the most egregious abuses of human rights were ignored. Completely. Amazingly, the global media platform which the Edinburgh Festival provides wasn’t used by any domestic or international campaigners to embarrass or shame the performers from these countries or their governments.

Of the 48 countries represented at this year’s Fringe, it was only performers from one country who were heckled, condemned or demonised by protest – Israel. This reality and the selective intolerance it represents goes a long way to explaining the feelings of vulnerability you accurately report.

Nigel Goodrich

Chief Executive, International Shalom Festival