Amnesty UK backs senior staff member who said London suicide protest over Gaza would be a ‘supreme act’

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Amnesty UK backs senior staff member who said London suicide protest over Gaza would be a ‘supreme act’

EXCLUSIVE: Charity’s economic affairs programme director Peter Frankental said US airman’s self-immolation ‘communicates a strong message’

Peter Frankental with his banner at the pro-Palestinian protest on 3 March.
Peter Frankental with his banner at the pro-Palestinian protest on 3 March.

A senior member of staff at Amnesty International UK has said the suggestion of a suicide protest over Gaza outside the Houses of Parliament would be “a supreme act that communicates a strong message”. 

Peter Frankental was speaking to a reporter at a pro-Palestinian march in London after a US airman, Aaron Bushnell, set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC in protest at the conflict.

The charity’s economic affairs programme director was carrying a sign at Saturday’s event that said: “Aaron Bushnell: An act of bravery and courage that will not be forgotten.” Asked whether he would condone a similar action in Westminster, he said: “Yes, certainly, it’s a supreme act for somebody to take their life in that way for what they believe in. Very few people would be prepared to do that and it communicates a strong message.”

Bushnell, 25, was wearing military uniform and shouted “free Palestine” during the incident, which he live-streamed on the website Twitch. He was taken to hospital but died a few hours later. Earlier, he had emailed several news and anarchist websites, the BBC reported.

People who take their own life are usually considered to be mentally ill and the incident treated as tragic.

Concerns have been expressed about the mental health of Bushnell, who grew up in Massachusetts in a neighbourhood on Cape Cod known as the Community of Jesus and which has been accused of being a cult. In 2020, a Canadian court cited the influence of the Community of Jesus in the physical and psychological abuse of students at Grenville Christian College who told of being forced to undergo bizarre, humiliating and painful punishment at the hands of those in charge.

Amnesty issued a statement backing Frankental, saying worldwide protests over Gaza show the strength of feeling on the issue. “We support any colleague who chooses, in their own personal time, to commemorate someone who died while protesting about the terrible human rights crisis happening right now while the world is watching but failing to act,” the charity said.

In his role at Amnesty, Frankental is responsible for tackling the rights impacts of businesses, trade, investment and the regulatory environment to hold companies accountable and to ensure access to remedy for victims of corporate abuse, according to his LinkedIn profile. He has previously worked in the NHS and has done postgraduate studies at institutions including the London School of Economics.

On the war in Israel-Gaza war, sparked by Hamas’s 7 October pogrom in southern Israel, Amnesty has issued “an urgent call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the occupied Gaza Strip and Israel”. It has added: “The root causes – including the Israeli authorities system of apartheid against Palestinians and decades of impunity – must be fully addressed.”

In a statement about Hamas’s pogrom, Amnesty has said the “shocking summary killings and abductions of civilians displayed a chilling disregard for life and for international law. Deliberate attacks on civilians and hostage-taking are war crimes and cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

The charity has been strongly criticised in the past for its long-running ‘Israeli Apartheid’ campaign, which states that: “Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem, Hebron, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.”

Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a Jewish barrister who had recently converted to Catholicism, with a focus on prisoners of conscience. He resigned five years later, partly because of ill health.

Peter Frankental did not respond to a request for comment.

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