The Reader: Defending freedom of speech is not optional

Unexplained: the Saudi Embassy in Turkey where Jamal Khashoggi was last seen (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images): Getty Images

Last month, two journalists in Myanmar were jailed for reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims. Two weeks ago, Turkish author Ahmet Altan was sentenced to life in prison for criticising his government. It appears last week Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, while journalist Victoria Marinova was raped and murdered in Bulgaria.

On Tuesday, we gave our Pinter Writer of Courage Award to Waleed Abulkhair, who is serving 15 years in Saudi Arabia for defending human rights. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement of concern regarding the suspected murder of Mr Khashoggi, but the British Government’s response to increased human rights abuses around the world seems reactive rather than strategic. Defence of human rights cannot be an optional extra in foreign policy. States that guarantee freedom of expression are more secure and prosperous, and become more reliable trading partners for the UK.
Antonia Byatt
Director, English PEN


Dear Antonia

You rightly highlight the dangers facing brave journalists around the world. The international demand for answers over the fate of Jamal Khashoggi suggests many still understand the value of a free press. Democracies have always had to engage with authoritarian states — that will not change — but perhaps we can learn in our own societies to value the role of a questioning media a little more. If we denigrate those we disagree with as “enemies of the people” or purveyors of “fake news” then we are doing the job of authoritarian regimes for them.

George Osborne, Editor

Let’s pause HS2 at Old Oak Common

The costs of HS2 keep increasing, and one way to reduce them is to stop the line at Old Oak Common — at least until Phase 2.

This will save £8 billion in the construction costs of continuing the line to Euston. The cost of disruption to traffic during the reconstruction of Euston has never been properly allowed for, and Old Oak Common provides a link to Crossrail.

Everyone agrees Old Oak Common could handle the predicted volume of traffic at least until Phase 1. It’s not too late to change the timing of when Euston comes on stream.
Prof Lord Richard Layard

Vehicle bans will be good for City

IT IS almost impossible to praise the City of London too highly for its inspirational draft transport strategy [“Vehicle bans and 15mph limits”, October 9], which will make the City a great place for pedestrians.

It will increase safety and ensure that the 480,000 people who commute into the area every day have a fairer share of street space. It will also surely be key in maintaining the competitiveness of the City of London with its rivals, including Paris.
David Harrison
London Living Streets

House of Lords does vital job of scrutiny

Darren Hughes’ assertion that the House of Lords is ineffective in scrutinising the Government is not borne out by the facts [The Reader, October 8].

In the last session of Parliament the Lords made 2,270 amendments to legislation to improve the laws that govern us all.

In the same period, 823 amendments were made in the House of Commons.
Norman Fowler
Lord Speaker, House of Lords