“This case has highlighted both the protection granted to abusers through existing legal and governmental systems, and the huge pressures placed on victims through lengthy trials, with victims’ names dragged through the mud.”
By Patrick Foley, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP.
Speaking to Labour Party Conference, Mariam Rasekh, Bethnal Green and Bow CLP, used her contribution in the debate on “Violence Against Women and Girls” to raise the recent persecution of Apsana Begum.
Apsana, herself a survivor of domestic abuse, was dragged through a lengthy legal process by her local council, in an investigation initiated by her abusive ex-husband’s brother-in-law. This shameful process eventually led to the Poplar and Limehouse MP being acquitted of all the warped charges against her, but it highlights the abuse of power commonly involved in domestic violence against women.
Since the court case ended, the Bethnal Green and Bow General Committee (GC) have passed two motions in support of Apsana, showing solidarity with her through the ordeal and calling for an urgent investigation into the circumstances surrounding her prosecution.
In particular, the motion asked: who was pressurising investigating officers, and why was the case not handed over to an independent body, given the conflict of interest and clear abuse of power involved?
As a Labour movement, domestic violence and abuse of women and girls must be addressed at every level. This case has highlighted both the protection granted to abusers through existing legal and governmental systems, and the huge pressures placed on victims through lengthy trials, with victims’ names dragged through the mud.
Stand with Apsana by joining the call for an investigation into her political persecution. You can read Mariam’s speech, the motion on “Violence Against Women and Girls,” and both motions in support of Apsana Begum MP below:
Mariam Rasekh – Bethnal Green and Bow CLP
Conference, it is vital that victims of domestic abuse and/or harassment come forward and speak out and get help – and that they are listened to when they do so. Because, according to Women’s Aid, “when we dismiss domestic abuse as a ‘private family matter,’ we minimise it, condone it, and permit it.”
VAWG specialists describe how abusers invariably use their positions of power and highlight that too often existing structures end up facilitating their abuse. Unfortunately, women are dragged through the courts and it’s an increasingly common way that abusers continue to persecute their victims.
If we are to make sure that passing motions and policy commitments have integrity, we have to also have the courage to tackle tough questions closer to home.
This is why it is important to raise the treatment of Apsana Begum – the first hijab-wearing MP, Chair of the APPG on Domestic Abuse and a brave VAWG campaigner.
People may know that Apsana is a survivor of domestic abuse. You may also know that she was recently cleared of all charges after a Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets Council spent over £88,000 trying to prosecute her.
But what you might not know is that Apsana’s ex-husband is a Tower Hamlets councillor, and the prosecution followed a complaint made by his brother-in-law, after she was selected to be Labour’s candidate in Poplar and Limehouse.
This is why I urge everyone to please support composite 16 and please support our petition calling for an independent inquiry into the decision to prosecute Apsana Begum MP.
Because, in the words of Apsana herself: “something like this must not happen to anyone else again”.
Composite 16 – Violence against Women and Girls
Conference notes the continued harassment and misogynist bullying of women in public life, contributing to discouraging women from standing for councillor positions or other elected representative roles.
Conference further notes that in the TUC report ‘It’s just a bit of banter’, on sexual harassment in the workplace, reported the vast majority of perpetrators were men. Conference condemns increasing domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, and the rise in harassment and misogynist abuse online during the pandemic. Conference commends the work of such organisations as Femicide Census, which seeks to record the deaths of women killed by men, and supports calls for a central recording register across the UK.
Conference supports urgent calls in all nations and regions of the UK for increased funding for specialist frontline services supporting women and children living with or seeking to leave, domestic abuse situations, including specialist provision for women from black and minority ethnic communities.
Conference supports investment in public services, and mental health support services, with dedicated resources for women and girls.
Conference calls on the National Executive to campaign alongside all those speaking up against violence against women, and to press for higher priority to be given to tackling harassment and bullying of women in, or seeking to enter, public life.
Conference calls on the National Executive Committee to roll out education across the party that promotes the understanding that violence against women and girls impacts all of society.
Solidarity with Apsana Begum
Bethnal Green Sept 2021
This GC sends its solidarity to Apsana Begum following her recent exoneration in court.
Since her election as MP for Poplar & Limehouse, Apsana has consistently supported workers
in struggle and the victims of injustice locally and internationally. We wish her well as she deals
with the trauma of being forced to recount in open court the abuse she endured. We hope that
her courage and dignity inspire other young women in Tower Hamlets to seek to represent the
community in which they live.
Public support for Apsana Begum MP and an Inquiry into the Prosecution of Apsana Begum MP
Women’s Branch Sept 2021
This GC notes that:
- Apsana Begum MP has been found not guilty by a jury over claims of housing fraud.
- She has described the case as being “driven by malicious intent” and causing “great
distress” and damage to her reputation.
- Concerns are being raised across the Labour movement and the media about the decision to launch this legal action, including that:
a. The case was brought not by the CPS but by Tower Hamlets Council.
b. The case was costly.
c. The court was presented with extensive undisputed evidence (including police
reports) that characterised the behaviour of Apsana’s ex-husband, as controlling,
coercive and abusive.
d. There appears to have been constant leaking of information to Tory councillors, rightwing blogs, and the tabloid press.
e. Since the case began, Apsana has also been the victim of sexist, racist and
Islamophobic abuse online, and threats to her safety.
f. During the trial council officers suggested they were under pressure to prosecute.
g. Apsana’s lawyer questions whether the investigating officers were fulfilling the duty of finding not just facts that incriminate the accused but also that would exonerate them.
- Before her election, Apsana fought against austerity measures imposed by Tower Hamlets
Council including for nurseries, community language services and youth services.
- Apsana has continued to be a vocal opponent of austerity and cuts implemented by the
council – in particular against planned cuts to libraries, SEND support, and the closure of
Day Care centres.
- In April 2020, Apsana helped to secure a reprieve from the Council adopting “fire and
rehire” tactics (under the guise of “Tower Rewards”) and then supported workers on the
picket line in June.
This GC believes that:
- The Labour Party should be an anti-racist and anti-sexist party and work in Tower Hamlets council to combat racism and sexism.
- The Labour Party should work in the council to support victims of domestic abuse.
- The Council’s decision to proceed with the case has been a waste of public money.
- An independent investigation into this prosecution is required.
This branch/ CLP resolves to:
- Write to the Mayor and the Whip demanding:
a. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding Apsana Begum’s prosecution,
which should answer the following questions: Who was pressurising investigating
officers? Why was the case not handed over to an independent body, like the Crown
Prosecution Service, given the conflicts of interest? Who was the source of the leaks
to councillors and right-wing media?
b. That this investigation be led by representatives from the national trade unions.
- Write to Rushanara Ali MP asking her to publicly offer solidarity and support for Apsana
- Write to the Bethnal Green and Bow Chair and Secretary asking them to publicly offer
solidarity and support for Apsana Begum MP.
- Make a public statement offering solidarity and support for Apsana Begum MP