Four in ten Britons unsure if torture is always wrong

A Freedom from Torture poll conducted by YouGov reveals that four in ten (43%) of Britons are unsure if torture is wrong under any circumstances. While a majority think that torture is always wrong (57%), almost a third (29%) of the British population believe that are some circumstances in which torture is acceptable. 14% say they don’t know.

Young people seem most ready to accept the idea of torture. While two thirds of over-50s think it is wrong under any circumstances, only 45% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 agree.

When it comes to human rights as part of trade negotiations with other countries, the pattern changes. Six in ten (60%) of 18-24 year olds believe that human rights considerations should be part of the discussion even if the best trade deals cannot be reached, compared to only 46% of over 65s.

On asylum issues, attitudes towards torture among Britons change. Only four in ten (41%) think that it’s never acceptable to send a person seeking asylum in Britain back to their home country if there is a risk of them being tortured. Almost a third (29%) think that it is acceptable to send asylum-seekers back to their country of origin in certain circumstances.  

Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said:

"While it is encouraging that the majority of the British population still oppose torture under any circumstances, it is troubling that so many young people are uncertain about such an extreme abuse of power.

These attitudes go hand in hand with creeping authoritarianism across the democratic world as populists like Donald Trump come to power and talk up torture as part of their “strongman” image.

Britain once played a key role in upholding the outright ban on torture but now our government is rowing backwards by continuing to block the truth about UK complicity in CIA torture and plans to create impunity for British troops accused of historic torture and other war crimes.

Our attitudes towards torture are the ultimate litmus test of a fair, decent and tolerant society. These findings show us that we still have a long way to go.”