Tom Whitehead and Damien McElroy — Telegraph.co.uk May 13, 2014
The British public is more likely to condone torture practices than people in Russia and almost half are against an outright ban.
The civil rights organisation was stunned by the results of its poll and blamed the glorification of ill-treatment on terror suspects and criminals in programmes such as 24, Homeland and Spooks.
Some 29 per cent of Britons said practices such as beatings, scalding and needles rammed under fingernails could be justified if it is to protect the public – compared to 25 per cent in Russia.
However, more than eight in ten Britons were confident they would never be at risk from torture.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “These findings are alarming, we really didn’t foresee this sort of response from people in the UK and it shows we have got a lot of work to do.
“It looks from these results like we have placed panic over principle. People have bought into the idea that their personal safety can be enhanced in some way through the use of torture. That is simply untrue.
“Programmes like 24, Homeland and Spooks have glorified torture to a generation – but there’s a massive difference between a dramatic depiction by screenwriters, and its real-life use by government agents in torture chambers.
“We decided as a society, a long time ago, that torture is simply wrong and can never be justified in any circumstances. That is one of the moral pillars on which our culture is based.
“That belief is borne out by the other results we have published today, which show that people here insist on the need for clear standards and rules to prevent torture and the confidence they report in the knowledge that they won’t personally be victims of torture.
“Everyone around the world should be able to enjoy that same assurance.”
The survey also showed 15 per cent of people in the UK fear being tortured if they are detained by the authorities – while 86 per cent agreed clear rules against torture were needed.
The research is published as Amnesty launched a new Stop Torture campaign and revealed that 27 different types of torture were reported during 2013/14, in at least 79 countries so far. Over the last five years torture has been reported in 141 countries, even though the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture provides an absolute prohibition against the practice.
Beatings with fists, rifle butts, wooden clubs and other objects, needles being forced underneath a victim’s fingernails, a prisoner having their joints drilled and boiling water being poured onto the body feature on the macabre list of torture techniques used across the world.
Earlier this year police in one district of Philippines were discovered operating a “wheel of torture” that allocated the types of suffering a detainee would endure.
Electric shocks, stubbing out cigarettes on the body, water torture and use of stress positions and sustained sleep deprivation also feature.
Criminal and security suspects, dissidents, political rivals and even schoolchildren have all been subjected to torture, Amnesty said.
Since 1984, 155 countries have ratified the UN convention but Amnesty said it is so widely ignored a new worldwide campaign against state-sponsored abuse. It wants to target five countries over the next two years to secure a committment to abolition from Nigeria, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Mexico and Morrocco.
However, Amnesty has accused governments around the world of “betraying” their commitments to stamp out torture.