Amplifying the voices they don’t want you to hear

Heidi McCafferty (she/her) is a postgraduate student at Birkbeck, University of London, studying for an MSc in Criminology. She is a mother, intersectional feminist, anti-racism activist and founder of Affinity Research and Development. She lives near Oxford with her family and plans to begin her PhD next year.

I first visited Warm Springs Correctional Center in 2019. It was beside the jarring, razor-sharp fences that stretch on for eternity, that I fell into conversation with other women waiting to visit. One had been up since 3am and had driven from the Bay Area through the stunning but treacherous mountains of Nevada to reach her son.

“He has been down for 20 years,” she told me as her eyes filled with tears. “He made a bad decision as a teenager”. Another, a primary school teacher, told me with a weary smile, how she visits her nephew there every weekend.

I initially started visiting a pen pal I had who was part of the Pups on Parole Programme. Led by the Nevada Humane Society, it trains incarcerated men to rehabilitate stray and last-chance dogs, so they can find homes. I was interested in the programme’s impressive low recidivism rates and the hope it gave to both the dogs and their trainers. I gradually learned more stories about those who are serving prison sentences. I heard examples of degrading and inhumane treatment inflicted by certain Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) staff members in various facilities, from unwarranted stints in solitary confinement, to extreme physical and emotional violence, compared with stories of NDOC staff who genuinely care, who act with professionalism and compassion and shine like beacons within these bleak, dark spaces. It is easy to feel initially overwhelmed when you explore the realities of the US ‘justice’ system. What can you do when you live 5000 miles away? That was the question I asked myself…

I would like to introduce you to Michael Wadsworth, another friend I met through the programme. He has kindly granted me permission to share his story. He has been in prison since 18. He was sentenced to up to 100 years by an all-white jury for his role in a tragic accident as a teenager. Michael had a promising football career, but just before he was due to begin a program at Feather River College in California, he was attacked outside a store by a group of men. While being chased, Michael took out the gun he kept on him for self-defence, as millions of Americans do, and shot at the ground to slow them down. In a tragic twist of fate, a bullet hit the leg of one of the attackers and caused him to lose his life. An all-white jury decided Michael was guilty of first-degree murder. This means a premeditated, planned act, the most serious of all prosecutions. That was the day the State of Nevada stole Michael’s life.

Michael has been in prison for 16 years. All his appeals failed. His family does not have the $50,000 needed for an attorney. Just one 15-minute local phone call from the facility costs the equivalent of £1.50. After spending time getting to know Michael and his inspiring Nana, who demonstrates psychological strength and Christian faith I can only dream of, we set up the #FreeMichael campaign. We built a website, recorded a short film, scripted and voiced by Michael, set up social media, a crowd-funding campaign and even launch a Free Michael podcast series on 12 March. We have already raised over $5500, but need $45,000 more to secure the representation of Kristina Wildeveld, one of the top attorneys in Nevada. She has already had a consultation with Michael and will help us get Michael’s case presented to the Nevada Pardons Board. If successful, he could be eligible for parole as soon as 2025. It would mean Michael still has a chance of living his life, of following his dream of becoming a youth mentor and having a family.

I am a mother, run a business and am a committed activist, so I was reluctant to throw a Master’s in. But Birkbeck makes studying this way possible. My studies here are allowing me to gain the academic foundation I need to progress. It is teaching me how to conduct my own research and gather my own evidence. I chose the MSc Criminology  in the Law School because the modules were engaging and relevant to my activism. It is helping to expand my knowledge and understanding, so I am better able to amplify the voices of those trapped in a system designed to silence them.

I plan to begin my PhD next year and will focus on exposing the culture of racism within NDOC through digital storytelling, allowing former inmates to anonymously share their experiences and allow their collective voices to help implement change.

To close, I would like to reflect on how the media and government assure us that without incarceration, the world would fall into apocalyptic-style chaos. But what the media and government misses, is how many men and women remain caged, often for decades, for poor decisions they made as teenagers, for addictions, trauma or because they were failed by the system designed to protect them. They neglect to highlight the numerous stages of missed-interventions, due to a lack of resources and state funding that could have changed the courses of so many lives. They fail to respond to questions around why members of Black and Minority ethnic communities continue to receive disproportionate, harsher sentences than white individuals. The evidence shows US prisons aren’t effective, they don’t rehabilitate, they make private companies billions of dollars each year, strip families of resources, separate parents from their children, nurture violence and exacerbate mental ill-health and trauma.

We all have a duty to challenge systemic racism and transform structures like the US ‘justice’ system. Especially the most privileged of us in society.

Black Lives Matter, they always have, and they always will.

Find out how you can support the #FreeMichael campaign at www.free-michael.com.

 

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Taking on the challenges of the pandemic to embrace a world of opportunities in London

Flexibility and daytime freedom are what led Oghenemine Djebah to choose Birkbeck to study an MA/LLM Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. In this blog, the Nigerian student shares his journey so far with us.    

Oghenemine Djebah

Oghenemine Djebah

After obtaining an LLB from the Delta State University, Oghenemine Djebah enrolled at the Nigerian Law School, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and was subsequently called to the Nigerian bar. Since then, he has been in active legal practice in Nigeria.

He worked for two notable law firms (Rotimi Jacobs & Co. and Zatts Law Chambers) and volunteered to give free legal services through a registered NGO (Fundamental Rights Enforcement Enlightenment and Defense).

During a 2019 visit to London, Oghenemine fell for the culture and diversity of the city. So, when his desire to gain more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the law inspired him to pursue an LLM he naturally focused his search on universities in the capital. “I started searching for an institution that would be flexible enough to let me work or volunteer while I studied. I found out about Birkbeck on the internet and the evening lectures tallied with the type of institution I was looking for, so I applied and was given admission into the School of Law.”

As the pandemic took hold around the world, Oghenemine considered deferring his admission by a year. “Because of the financial challenges caused by COVID-19 it was quite a challenge getting the initial deposit in time. The management of Birkbeck recognised this and made the concession of reducing the initial deposit by 90% for all international students, which gave me the opportunity to meet all of the requirements and enroll for the 2020 session.” In recognition of his potential Oghenemine was subsequently awarded a Birkbeck International scholarship and a School of Law Postgraduate Award.

The pandemic’s impact was not only financial as, first the Autumn, then the Spring terms were moved online. Oghenemine embraced the challenges and attended online orientation, public lectures as well as the international student’s virtual event at the beginning of the academic year. He reflected: “The international student event was really helpful for me in understanding my role as an international student, including the benefits and how to tap into them.”

Oghenemine has also been making good use of the online services available to students: “The Birkbeck Careers platform is great and enables students not only to see available jobs and apply but also to help teach them how to prepare for interviews and tailor their CVs and cover letters to meet professional standards.”

With a few months of studies under his belt, the Nigerian student assesses his time learning online. “This is actually my first time doing any course via virtual learning. It is quite challenging because I do not get to meet with other students and make good connections which is also part of the university life. However, the lectures have been going great, better than I expected because we are provided with pre-recorded videos for each lecture. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything different, from living, to studying. Not being able to meet physically and always being indoors has made this period a bit difficult. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet physically with my fellow students and lecturers before graduating from Birkbeck.”

More than anything the Law student sees and embraces the positives studying in London and at Birkbeck can bring: “London is well known for welcoming international students globally, including from Nigeria. Being a student in London enables you to be a part of a well-integrated international and diverse community. London is a city with a lot of opportunities for everyone beyond academic programs. I advise all Nigerians who wish to study internationally to study in London and join a diverse community and tap into the available opportunities.”

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Bringing his own dose of magic to the field of Law

Tomas McCabe is a recent prize-winner in the inaugural British Inter University Commercial Awareness Competition 2020. BIUCAC was established to provide opportunities for non-Russell Group students to develop commercial awareness and to highlight the talent at respective law schools. Contestants receive support with enhancing their CVs and win one of twelve prizes at top City law firms. Tomas won the prize offered by Simmons & Simmons and in this blog, he shares his path to success, a smart mix of the conventional with the unconventional, including a 10-year career as a magician.

This is a photo of Law student Tomas McCabe

Tell us about your course, what you’re studying and how you came to study at Birkbeck?
I am in my second year of the LLB course. My job for a long time has been as a magician, however I decided last summer (2019) that I would love to study a law degree around that work. I’ve always been interested in law and have considered studying it for a long time, and when I finally decided to go for it, Birkbeck’s evening structure allowed me to study it conveniently as well as giving me a University of London degree.

What’s your view on the opportunities available to Law students once they graduate?
I have researched a lot about the opportunities for law students after they graduate. While there are some fantastic opportunities, it is a very competitive industry and a majority of students will never get the chance to work as a barrister or solicitor simply because everyone wants to. However, with a good degree behind you and a lot of extra volunteer work, competitions and experience on your CV, it seems you stand a better chance. Thankfully, as I learnt in BIUCAC, the city law firms traditional tendency to hire from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities is being steadily improved to give more students a chance at obtaining the top positions.

What are your career plans following your course?
I have been awarded work experience at two law firms- Simmons & Simmons and CANDEY. Following my placements there, I will have a much better idea where exactly I would like to take my law career. Currently, I am simply trying to take advantage of every opportunity and keep doors open.

How has Birkbeck supported you with those plans?
Birkbeck has supported me in numerous ways. As I mentioned, I much prefer the evening scheduled work as it frees up my day to do my own combination of studying, legal research and other work to support life in London. I have jumped at opportunities presented to students, including this one (BIUCAC), representing Birkbeck at the Landmark Property Moot Competition and applying for some volunteer work. I think students themselves, however, need to do a bit more research into what needs to be done early on in order to build experience and stand out at the time when you are applying for jobs.

Tell us how you came to hear of the competition and how you went about applying?
I heard of the competition through an email sent to students. Initially I wasn’t sure about taking part as I hadn’t really thought about commercial awareness or why I might need it. As it was multiple choice, I decided to give the first few rounds a go. By the time I got to the interviews and presentations stages, I was sucked in and loved it.

How do you see competitions like this helping students, especially non-Russell Group students?
The most obvious answer here is that anything that can make your CV stand out, against the hundreds applying for the same job as you, is important. After all, most – if not all – will have a law degree. That aside, this competition has built my commercial awareness a lot and from doing my research I now realise how important this is. Also, the opportunity to network with graduate recruiters, trainees and more senior lawyers from the top firms in London – magic circle included – was brilliant. Finalists also got a Just Eat voucher!

What were your thoughts on winning 3rd place- an incredible achievement?
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. However, as the competition moved through the rounds and I became more invested in it, I decided soon enough that if I was going to do it, I should do it right. I put in the time and effort for the finals and was really pleased with my achievement. However, the whole way through I was aware of the standard of the other students and didn’t believe I could place third from over 4100 entrants. I’m really happy with myself for doing so though.

Any final takeaways from the competition?
My main takeaways from the competition are: degree class is becoming more important to the top firms than the university you study at, so never think you can’t compete with the best. And also, take every opportunity you can. At worst it’ll cost you a few hours, at best it could get you your dream job.

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Is the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence turning into the Ministry of Justice’s own Windrush scandal?

Professor Mike Hough, Emeritus Professor and Founder of Birkbeck’s Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research (ICPR) explains how thousands of prisoners are still facing injustice, ten years after IPPs’ failings were first exposed, and endorses latest demands for action.

Ministry of Justice, Westminster

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) is to be congratulated on their excellent – but profoundly depressing – report No Freedom, No Life, No Future, which charts how large numbers of prisoners sentenced to the indeterminate sentence Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) are still stranded in prison many years after they were sentenced. As the report vividly demonstrates, part of the cause of this is the irrational and grossly unfair way in which the recall system is operating, following prisoners’ breach of their licence after release.

In 2010 Professor Jessica Jacobson and I worked on an ICPR/PRT collaboration which resulted in the report on the IPP sentence, Unjust Deserts. We showed how prisoners were required to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they were no longer a danger to the public, mainly by participating in courses to reduce the risks they posed. However, prisoners were denied means to demonstrate that they no longer posed a high risk to the public. Often courses were simply unavailable. In some cases, prisoners were told that they presented too low a risk for the course on offer, or that their levels of literacy were too low for the course in question. More broadly, the effectiveness of courses as a means of reducing dangerousness was questionable; while, at the same time, there were no obvious alternative ways in which individuals, in a prison setting, could prove the negative proposition that they no longer posed a risk to the public.  Matters were made worse by the originally mandatory nature of the sentence, meaning that many more IPP sentences were passed than originally expected, and many of these were for relatively minor offences. The Parole Board was overwhelmed by cases and delays grew. The net result was that many IPP prisoners were serving much longer sentences than expected – sentences that were, by any yardstick, grossly disproportionate.

Our report was well-received, and the then Justice Secretary, (now Lord) Kenneth Clarke, asked to see a pre-publication draft. We took some satisfaction in the announcement made shortly afterwards that the sentence would be abolished, qualified only by the fact that there were no plans to deal retroactively with those still serving IPPs, for example by converting all IPPs into determinate sentences. However, we thought that it would not take long for solutions to be found to release those prisoners in a fair and sensible way, whether through legislative or executive action.

How wrong we were! I was astonished to learn from PRT’s new report that by mid 2020 almost 2,000 IPP prisoners have never been released, and almost 1,400 have been released but are now back in prison, facing exactly the same intractable problems of proving their reduced risk as we found ten years ago.  The ongoing treatment of IPP prisoners is scandalous, and the scandal is, for the Ministry of Justice, taking on qualities that parallel the Windrush scandal that the Home Office is failing to deal with. The obvious unfairnesses and inhumanity which IPP prisoners face demand rapid attention.  We strongly endorse PRT’s call for action.

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Denials and ignorance in the time of a pandemic

Professor Renata Salecl, Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Law, explores how and why people react to COVID-19 with denial and ignorance.

Ignorance is often understood in a negative way, which is why we can easily accuse others of it while we rarely admit our ignorance. Most often, ignorance is understood not only as a lack of knowledge but primarily as a lack of the desire to know. However, psychoanalysts have observed that people might very well have a desire to know, but then do everything not to come close to the core of their suffering.

In politics, ignorance is often intentional or even strategic. At the start of the pandemic, many world leaders employed such deliberate strategies of ignorance. It was not so much that they did not know about the dangers of the novel coronavirus; they downplayed the pandemic for political and economic reasons.

In their private lives, people adopt their own types of denial. These denials are not so different from the types of denials that were studied in the 1980s by the Israeli psychologist Shlomo Breznitz, who questioned how people deal with potentially life-threatening health situations. Breznitz observed that many people who survived a heart attack did not think that they could suffer its repeat, even if they learned that others with a similar condition did. Denials helped people to feel confident in their wellbeing, and people often went from one form of denial to another. Altogether, Breznitz observed seven different kinds of denials among the patients he studied. One form of denial was that people felt that what happened to others cannot happen to them. Another involved a lack of urgency – when people experienced worsening of their health, they delayed seeking help. Still, another form of denial was a denial of vulnerability, when people felt that they were somehow protected from the illness because of their presumably healthy lifestyle. One of the forms of denial was the perception that illness is just luck, fate, or destiny. Moreover, while some people denied effects related to their condition or have invented an appeasing explanation for their anxiety provoked by their near-death experiences, others denied the information regarding their health. However, the most severe cases of denial included delusions, which meant that people created an explanation for their condition that was far away from reality.

With people who deny COVID-19, one can also observe how they often go through similar types of denials. Some people behave as if the novel coronavirus is of no personal relevance and that infections affect only other people. Even when already infected, some deny the urgency of the situation and do not seek medical treatment when their symptoms worsen. Many people who deny that the novel coronavirus can affect them, similarly to Breznitz’s patients, harbor illusions that they are somehow protected from getting infected because of their healthy lifestyle or even good genes. Some people take infection as merely a matter of luck or destiny. Overwhelmingly present are denials linked to people blocking unpleasant information or pushing aside their emotions related to the pandemic. Furthermore, with the continuation of the pandemic, psychiatrists are also observing delusional thinking. Some people are even developing particular COVID-19 related delusions.

Medicine often does not pay enough attention to people’s denial of illness as epidemiology says little about how ignorance and denial are played out in times of a pandemic. Now that so many countries are going through the second wave of the pandemic, many people are fatigued by it and are not willing to follow often erratic measures governments are proposing to limit the spread of the virus. While on the one hand, people need to deal with the conflicting messages about how to protect themselves and others from the infection, on the other hand, they have to deal with the emotions the pandemic is provoking. When dealing with something traumatic, anxiety-provoking or hard to grasp, people often embrace ignorance and denial, instead of knowledge and facts.

The pandemic has taught us the importance of acknowledging the unknown. As Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States said, “He who knows, knows how little he knows.” One cannot imagine that today’s world leaders would utter something like this. Although, as German politician and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach recently reminded us in The Guardian: “Uncertainty and doubt are not a disgrace for scientists or politicians at this time. What is disgraceful is excessive self-confidence, self-righteousness or dishonesty towards fellow human beings.”

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Introducing Birkbeck’s 2020 Chevening cohort

This year Birkbeck is delighted to welcome 30 new Chevening scholars, hailing from all corners of the world. The prestigious Chevening scholarship is offered each year by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promising students, chosen for their leadership potential and academic promise.

Once again Chevening students from a number of countries opted to join Birkbeck, attracted by its reputation, the possibility it offers to study alongside London’s professionals.

Meet our 2020 Chevening cohort.

Nozipho Nomzana “Zana” Mziyako, Eswatini, MSc Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability

Nozipho Mziyako, Etiswani

Nozipho Mziyako, Etiswani

“I applied for the Chevening scholarship because it presents a big opportunity for individuals like me who envision themselves as key contributors to society’s positive development, to learn through academics, forged networks and international experiences.  I love travelling, hiking, adventures, meeting people as well as experiencing different cultures. Through this Chevening experience, I look forward to the exposure and growth and most importantly ploughing back to society.”

 

Joan Santani Santanasam, Malaysia, MA Journalism

Joan Santani Santansam, Malaysia

Joan Santani Santansam, Malaysia

“I’m a business journalist working with Malaysia’s National News Agency, Bernama. I have been working in the journalism industry for eight years now covering a range of news on business, finance, commodities, stock market and politics.

The Chevening Scholarship is really the gateway for me to enhance my knowledge, broaden my worldview and hone my leadership and social skills. These are essential skills to further enhance my career as a journalist.”

 

 

 

Bongani Njalo, South Africa, MA Arts Policy & Management

Bongani Njalo, South Africa

Bongani Njalo, South Africa

Bongani Njalo is an award-winning South African artist whose work in drawing, performance, installation and traditional bead-making explores themes in culture, collective and individual identity. Njalo was a recipient of the David Koloane Award (2014), he was named one of the Top 200 Young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian (2016) and went on to become a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2017, a programme lead by the Department of State for Young African Leaders.

 

Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt, Cuba, MSc Marketing Communications

Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt

Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt

“As a communication specialist and marketing enthusiast, I’ve been able to work and gain experience on different scenarios; from large public companies to private small businesses in Cuba, and they all could benefit from accurate and up-to-date marketing tools.

For me, to deserve this opportunity means one of the greatest challenges that I’ll ever have, I’ve always found British culture and history fascinating, and being able to experience it in person is a unique privilege; especially for a woman like me that coming from a working-class family I’ve always felt driven to exceed expectations”.

 

Zeina Ramadan, Palestine, MSc Creative Industries

Zeina Ramadan

Zeina Ramadan, Palestine

“Being a professional in the creative industry in my home country and observing the sector first hand on the ground led me to choose this major. Through working on various projects and different institutions within filmmaking, animation, TV, content editing as well as the audio publishing industry, I gained a deeper insight into the needs and the hole in the wall which need to be filled not only in my home country but in the region as a whole and the potential it has to grow. This heightened my passion and consequently led me to Chevening as it was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for me to be able to make a difference. Here I am! About to start a life-changing experience whilst simultaneously gaining knowledge and connections in the field I am most passionate about.”

 

Chiranthi Senanayake, Sri Lanka, LLM International Economic Law, Justice andDevelopment

Chiranthi Senanayake

Chiranthi Senanayake

A youth empowerment advocate specializing in the niche area of Youth Empowerment Incubation (YEI) Chiranti Seneneyake is the Founder and President of Hype Sri Lanka which is the country’s first youth empowerment incubator. She is also the Founding President of the Young Legal Professionals Association of Sri Lanka.

She was appointed as the United Nations Youth Delegate for Sri Lanka in 2016 in recognition of her community service. In this capacity she has worked as a Youth Focal Point to the National Youth Services Council and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. Chiranthi also served as the Global Ambassador for Sri Lanka for Youth Opportunities in 2018. She is a Women Deliver Young Leader of 2020 and the recipient of The Diana Award 2020.

 

Presely Gitari, Kenya, MSc Climate Change

Presley Gitari

Presley Gitari, Kenya

“I’m a conservation biologist from Kenya, who works with the country’s Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society by using environmental conservation as a tool of socio-economic empowerment.

“I’m also an Associate Fellow with the Royal Commonwealth Society and I am passionate about improving the lives and prospects of citizens of the Commonwealth.

“I applied for Chevening because it represents purpose beyond academic progression, as it inculcates a mindset focused on leadership and fostering networks to positively impact the lives of others. ”

 

 

 

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Changing cities and the meaning of beauty

Dr Daniele D’Alvia, Module Convener in Comparative Law, delves into his thoughts on how cities and communities are changing and with this explores the concept of beauty.

Dr Daniele D’Alvia

In 2019, I agreed with Professor Anne Wagner, Professor of Legal Semiotics at Lille University, to write about the relative and absolute meanings of beauty in relation to cities. I wrote about the beauty of cities, mentioning the sentence of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian novelist, “Beauty shall save the world”. A sentence that today becomes – as I affirmed in 2019 – ‘a necessity and a new way to see the world’ especially in the face of political transformation, environmental changes or catastrophes.

As a Birkbeck Ronnie Warrington scholar and a passionate reader of Oscar Wilde, I shall write on the meanings of beauty. Beauty cannot be seen as an absolute, fixed concept. Indeed, I firmly believe that beauty must be interpreted as relative and susceptible to change to become the expression of a new transformation that can turn the actual signs of imperfection and political change into a new beautiful meaning. The ‘imperfect’ past or present can, indeed, vanish in front of crowded streets of protesters that today march side by side with people of different religions, races, and sexual orientations. This because the new future shall start to become the new present of an evolved and transformed vision of cities as well as of communities.

In this light, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement this year as well as the political demonstrations and protests in Minsk, Belarus, represent the necessity of seeing the world differently. As I have affirmed in 2019 ‘beauty becomes a necessity’. That same necessity to re-invent the world in front of the violence and dictatorship has given new meanings and interpretations to cities.

Minsk has shown the world that people are now asking to become more aligned with democratic concepts of equality and freedom. The flower-bearing women protesting in Minsk in August in response to the police violence inflicted on Belarusians represents the new meaning of beauty of the silenced innocents. Additionally, the removal of statues that symbolised colonial power becomes the symptom of a transformation of cities towards new ideals of inclusion, diversity, and tolerance. Indeed, it seems that nowadays the concept of beauty must be relative and open to change, rather than absolute and fixed, because it is inside the same ‘relativity’ that we can identify the meaning of change and revolution.

It is with discussions and the debating of our own views and opinions that we can change the world. Everything that is perceived as absolute and fixed can only absolutely destroy. The relativity of ideas, the doctrine that knowledge, truth and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, is the key to progress and equality. Indeed, I firmly believe that each real revolution starts within ourselves and we need to open ourselves to thinking beyond our own self-interests and boundaries.

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Golden Dawn: Greece’s neo Nazi leaders jailed

In response to the guilty verdict in the Greek Golden Dawn Nazi trial in Athens, Greece, Dr Maria Tzanakopoulou from the School of Law charts the history of the group, the anti-fascist movement in the country and the people’s reaction to the historic verdict. 

A huge crowd gathered outside of the Court of Appeal in Athens

A huge crowd gathered outside the Court of Appeal to hear the verdict.

The world salutes yesterday’s historic verdict in the Greek Golden Dawn Nazi trial before the Athens Court of Appeal, Criminal Division. Five and a half years after the commencement of proceedings, the Nazis were jailed. The most momentous trial for an entire generation of Greeks, and possibly the biggest post-Nuremberg Nazi trial in global history, yesterday’s verdict came to the relief, emotional outburst and thrill of thousands of citizens gathered outside the Court of Appeal in Athens. The Nazis were jailed!

From a fringe fascist group in the mid-1980s, Golden Dawn developed into a decisive political force, securing 21 seats in the 2012 general election to the astonishment of Greek democratic people. Yet the development was not without prior notice. The ascension of Golden Dawn to a dominant political and ideological force was the offspring of years of far-right radicalisation, pauperisation, austerity and debasement of the lives of citizens. With the exception of the Left, mainstream political forces did very little, if anything, to put a stop to extreme far-right, nationalist and anti-immigrant voices. The words used by mainstream politicians in their references to Golden Dawn following their 2012 election are hair-raising: ‘an authentic political movement’; ‘activists’; ‘polite’; ‘earnest’ are a few among them.  As such, the Nazis did not solely make it to Parliament; they were normalised by the system, becoming an almost conventional interlocutor in everyday public political discourse. They exerted decisive influence, developed into a better-organised criminal organisation with military hierarchy and, covered with parliamentary immunity, began to spread hatred and violence through society in ways far more effective and extensive than before. The Nazis attacked, and often murdered, whatever and whoever they could not comprehend – from the immigrant worker to the dignified anti-fascist to the fighting trade unionist.

Magda Fyssa, mother of Pavlos Fyass the moment the verdict was announced

Magda Fyssa, mother of antifacist rapper Pavlos Fyass (who was assasinated in 2013), the moment the verdict was announced.

Antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas’ murder in 2013 was a milestone in the turn of events that led to the Nazis’ conviction. Pavlos’ assassination was preceded by the murder of 27 year old Pakistani Shehzad Luqman, the attack against Communist trade unionists by organised assault battalions, and the violent attack against four Egyptian fishermen. The above events occurred between 2012 and 2013 and were just a few among many brutal assaults by the Nazis. Yesterday’s trial was about the individual crimes, which had been by and large confessed, but above all it was about the recognition of the Nazis as a criminal organisation.

The historic announcement of the conviction of the entire Nazi group for leadership and/or participation in a criminal organisation was followed by an ecstatic outburst of applause and tears by the crowds. Thanks to the strenuous efforts of the Greek anti-fascist movement, the demand for jailing the Nazis became hegemonic in society, assimilated into the mainstream, and relieved the people of at least some of the bitter fascist hatred that was spreading through. Over the past few days, the slogans ‘Jail the Nazis’ and ‘I won’t be scared’ were projected on central city landmarks of Athens and Thessaloniki. Convicts of the country’s largest prison raised a banner demanding that Nazis be jailed. Millions of citizens made small gatherings raising similar banners and posting them on social media. From Greek cities to Italy and France and from London and Liverpool to Dachau Concentration Camp, Europe cried out: ‘Jail the Nazis.’ Yesterday’s gathering was joined by schools, by grandparents with their grandchildren, by working people and their trade unions, by political organisations and anti-fascist groups, by mothers with their babies and citizens on wheelchairs. Pavlos’ mother, Magda, whose tenacious struggle against the Nazis made her the unwitting symbol of the antifascist movement, was deified by the crowds on her way out of the Court: ‘You made it, son! You did!’, she screamed.

The pain is soothed but our minds are not put at rest. Whatever gave birth to this is still alive. The trial was not the beginning and it is not the end of the struggle against fascism. It is a stage, albeit momentous, in the continuous war against fascism, xenophobia and hatred for the Other. It is one stage in the continuous effort to rebuild our communities on the basis of solidarity, respect and dignity. As these lines were written, just after the verdict announcement, police forces, though unprovoked, started teargassing the crowds. But yesterday, the people were no longer scared. Yesterday they paused and took in a great victory. In the name of Pavlos, of Shehzad and of a deeply wounded society, yesterday the people defeated the Nazis. Yesterday, society was no longer scared!

 

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“Birkbeck equipped me with knowledge that has helped me continue making a difference in my community.”

Esther Joyce Ariokot, from Uganda, graduated with an LLM in International Economic Law, Justice and Development. The intensive programme involves two blocks of intensive face-to-face teaching in London, with preliminary materials and readings developed especially and sent to students in January.

Esther Ariokot

Esther Ariokot

Can you tell us about your background?

Before joining Birkbeck I had completed a Bachelor of Laws from Uganda Christian University after which I pursued the Bar Course to enable me to practice Law in Uganda.

I chose Birkbeck’s intensive LLM International Economic Law programme because it fitted within the work I was doing at the time. I was working as a Court Mediator which involved helping people settle disputes without going through the whole process of litigation. I was helping the vulnerable attain justice.

The programme includes two blocks of intensive face to face teaching. Can you tell us about your time in London and on campus?

I enjoyed studying with my classmates because we were from a range of professions, from lawyers to bankers to actresses. They brought a rich contribution to the lectures and discussions we often had. The different professions brought a different angle to the human rights course unit we were studying. I have kept in touch with four of my classmates.

I particularly enjoyed the Human Rights class and the Risks and Response class. I received additional support from the Library Team. They made using the Library easy along with the online Library. I also received a Tutorial on how to write a dissertation.

Unfortunately, I did not join any social clubs or societies as I was studying an intensive course so had little free time on my hands. But I had a great time looking around London.

What did you enjoy the most about living in London?

London has so many tourist attractions that I enjoyed going to when I got some free time. I also enjoyed the diverse range of cuisines available; I was able to eat food from my country during my stay.

I had never lived overseas before coming to UK. I was living in Harpenden and because of the efficient transport system I had no trouble coming into London for study and research.

Furthermore, I was fortunate that a British family took me in and looked after me for my whole stay. I did not have challenges living in London because I was well taken care of by the Vickers Family – I am forever grateful for their generosity.  The weather was not a problem as I was in London during spring and summer.

How has your time at Birkbeck influenced your life and career since then?

Birkbeck helped me to become a critical thinker, a skill that was key to me getting my research job. I was appointed as a lecturer to the School of Law of Nkumba University because I had an LLM and I was also given a Research Job by Judiciary because of the skills I had attained from Birkbeck.

I work under a Justice of the High Court in the Commercial Division of the High Court.  I have also started a Legal Aid Project that is helping the needy and vulnerable people where I live in Entebbe attain legal services at no cost.

What are your top tips for aspiring students?

The Legal profession requires Commitment and hard work, after attaining your law degree aim to make a difference in the community around you. I thank Birkbeck for equipping me with the knowledge that has helped me continue making a difference in my community. I am currently applying for a Law PhD at Birkbeck.

Birkbeck will make your study easy and enjoyable. It has a diverse culture, you cannot fail to fit in. The members of staff are professional and make understanding the concepts easy. Apply for a course now, don’t hesitate!

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Wesley’s journey on the Freshfields Law Scholarship

Birkbeck Law student Wesley Manta has recently been awarded a prestigious Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship, marking the second time that a Birkbeck student has been chosen for the mentoring and scholarship programme. In this blog, Wesley discusses his journey so far on the scheme.

I was recently awarded the Freshfields’ Stephen Lawrence Scholarship, along with 13 others across the country. The scholarship seeks to address the disproportionate under-representation of black and black-mixed race men from less privileged backgrounds in large commercial law firms, and more recently in other City careers. The scholarship award is a mixture of mentoring and interning opportunities with law firms and other commercial City firms. The scholarship programme lasts for 15 months and is aimed at complementing our busy university schedules. Though we have just begun the programme, it is clear that the programme will provide a lot of value to our professional growth.

My journey started with the insight meeting. The insight meeting was an opportunity for potential candidates to understand more about the scholarship, what Freshfields were looking for in their scholars and what the scholarship programme would entail. It was a great day, with guests from Freshfields, Bank of England and AON. Though this meeting was not compulsory, it is definitely recommended, especially as we had the opportunity to speak to former and current scholars about helpful tips for the application form.

The next step of the journey was to submit a formal application. Part of the application included producing a video with the theme “My Story”. I was grateful enough to have some friends who had some video-editing skills to help with my video. Birkbeck helped fill out the application, including giving a recommendation. The support I received from Birkbeck was exemplary throughout this process.

The final stage was attending the two-day assessment centre. The assessment centre was an exhausting array of challenging exercises, created to test several aspects of the candidates. There was a theme throughout the assessment centre which really added to idea of the exercises being tasks that clients may ask us to do in a professional setting. The exercises were hard to complete but getting to meet and network with dozens of black men in the same position as I was a wonderful part of the two days.

My cohort, the 2019 scholars, have already begin meeting and learning. In our first group meeting, meetings that are scheduled to take place roughly once a month, we were treated to several lectures by senior people from Freshfields and some of their clients. We learnt the basics of maintaining a professional looking LinkedIn page, how to protect our reputation and some tips and tricks for landing a great first impression.

I am eternally grateful to Baroness Lawrence and Freshfields for providing me with this opportunity. Breaking into the commercial world is not easy, as there are so many rules and ways of working which we are never taught in university. Through this scholarship, I hope to be able to gain the practical knowledge required to succeed in the City.

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