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Torture: going, going, gone ...?

Fancy buying a rare piece of 16th-century torture equipment? Something like a “shame mask” originally used to enforce silence? Or a “tongue-tearer” which was used  to punish blasphemers and heretics. Or a three-metre-long “rack” for slowly wrenching the body apart.

Mmmm. Not your everyday eBay purchase. But these and another 250 torture items like iron masks, thumbscrews, foot squeezers, manacles and "witch-catchers" (whatever the hell they are) are being auctioned in New York soon to … wait for it, raise money for Amnesty International. All true: check out the full story here.

So, do you fancy getting yourself a bit of torture kit and raising some money for Amnesty? Er, well, maybe, maybe not. I'd say it's not everyone's idea of a desirable artefact. Torture memorabilia is not exactly like having John Lennon's first guitar or (er) one of Kurt Cobain's smelly plaid shirts.

I'm reminded of that Father Ted episode where Ted and Dougal stumble into a dodgy priest's secret room filled with his collection of Nazi gear, including SS uniforms and a huge swastika flag.

What sort of person would buy historical torture equipment? (To be fair to the seller in New York, by the way, they are apparently a descendant of a Holocaust survivor so it's to be hoped they didn't have any kind of fetishistic interest in them, but even so …) I personally wouldn't want a real-life thumbscrew or whatever because I don't want to be associated with other people's suffering. I wouldn't want to be this close to torture. Would you?

I think torture is a sort of special category of crime that goes into a zone of human (mis)behaviour that frankly scares a lot of us. (To take one small at-hand example: the man in Scotland in the news this week for torturing and killing cats. This was undescribably vile. So much so that I don't even want to tell my cat-loving girlfriend about it).

Okay, on the one hand it's amazing and completely depressing that there's actually so much torture going on in the world (see another post of mine on the global extent of torture on the Telegraph site). But – and it's a big but – the active exposure of those that torture has probably never been going on more effectively than it is right now.

As I say in the Telegraph post, we're never going to stop torture by asking those that do it to kindly stop. Wrong language, wrong target. Organised campaigning and lobbying against torture, principally targeting governments, prison officials and the like, is the only way to (try to) stamp out the disgusting physical and mental abuse of people that's been going on for centuries (a lot longer than since the 16th century).

Check out our new “Defy them” film that brilliantly condenses the idea of stopping torture through effective campaigning. It's both scary and uplifting stuff. Please watch it and share the link. And if you want one of those torture artefacts, contact Guernsey's auction house in New York on 001 212 794 2280 or

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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