Indian-born civil rights leader takes on British culture secretary over slur

June 20th, 2008 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, June 20 (IANS) Shami Chakrabarti, one of Britain’s most powerful Asian women, has threatened to sue Culture Secretary Andy Durnham for “smearing” her relationship with well-known Conservative leader David Davis. In a letter to Durnham and the prime minister, civil rights campaigner and lawyer Chakarabarti has charged the former with “debasing” his office and warned of a libel suit if he does not apologise right away.

The controversy arose over Durnham’s interview to a magazine during which he said she shared “late night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls” with Davis during the run-up to last week’s Common’s vote on anti-terror legislations.

Davis resigned his MP seat protesting the legislation, to seek re-election. Chakrabarti too had reservations against the proposed anti-terror laws.

However, there is no sign as yet of the culture secretary agreeing to an unreserved apology. His spokesperson only “regretted” the remarks and added: “An interpretation has been placed on Andy’s remarks that he did not intend.”

Burnham took the opportunity of the magazine interview to express surprise that civil rights proponent Chakrabarti and Davis had been in alliance over the proposed legislations given the latter’s right-wing views on terror laws.

He said it was “very curious in the man who was, and still is, I believe, an exponent of capital punishment having late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti”.

Admitting talking to Davis, Chakrabarti only said it was to talk him out of resigning rather than encourage him to do so.

Chakrabarti told Durnham: “By your comments you debase not only a great office of state but the vital debate about fundamental rights and freedoms in this country. Indeed you seem reluctant to engage in that debate except in this tawdry fashion.”

Davis is already on record flaying Durnham as being one of the prime minister’s “henchmen out and about to attack me personally rather than engage in rational debate”.

Chakrabarti currently heads the famous civil rights group, Liberty. The daughter of Indian immigrants who came to Britain from Kolkata in the 1960s, she has been at the forefront of debate over ID cards, terror laws, 42-day detention without charge, and incitement to religious hatred.

Her campaigning was recognised last year with a CBE and she has won a series of political awards. In 2006, she was shortlisted for Channel 4’s Most Inspiring Political Figure award.

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