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21 - 27 Apr , 2012
Human Rights Court Decision Rocks British Muslim Community
Human Rights Court Decision Rocks British Muslim Community
The decision of the Human Rights Courts in Strasbourg to the effect that the human rights of five British Muslims would not be affected if they were to be sent to the United States to stand trial for terrorism charges, has rocked the Muslim community in the UK and come as surprise to human rights campaigners.
Among the five is Abu Hamza, the radical cleric popularly known as the hook because he has a hook on one hand and who, over the years, has acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the face of violent extremism in Britain. The other four include Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz and while perhaps nobody would be shedding too many tears for Abu Hamza, the case of Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan are very different.
For one thing, they are both of Pakistani origin and thus they or their families are known to many members of the British Pakistani community. Both lived in the Tooting area of south London and both are involved in the same case in which they are accused of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country; and money laundering.
The material support is alleged to have been provided through a series of websites whose servers were based in Connecticut. The other charge is based on an allegation that the pair were in possession of classified US Navy plans relating to a US naval battle group operating in the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and that they discussed its vulnerability to terrorist attack.
The main website, known as "Azzam Publications" was named after Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar who was, according to the website, "instrumental in reviving jihad in the 20th century." It carried a series of personal stories from fighters in Chechnya, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Babar Ahmad's father was at one time associated with the Daily Jang in London. Talha was educated in one of London's most prestigious schools in Dulwich. Both have been held in custody for long periods of time – Babar for almost eight years and Talha for almost six years – without trial, without even being told what is the evidence against them. What both have repeatedly asked for is to be tried in the UK, where they have lived all their lives and where any alleged offence, if committed by them, took place. Their families have repeatedly pointed out that after all, this is no more than what murderers, rapists and paedophiles are allowed – the right to a fair trial where their guilt or innocence is decided by a jury of their peers. The problem with that is that the Crown Prosecution Service does not think there is enough evidence against them.
The court in Strasbourg had considered the cases of the four men for over four years. In a press release, the court said: "The European Court of human rights held, unanimously, that there would be: no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights as a result of conditions of detention at ADX Florence (a "supermax" prison in the United States) – if Mr Ahmad, Mr Ahsan, Mr Abu Hamza, Mr Bary and Mr Al-Fawwaz were extradited to the USA; and, no violation of Article 3 of the convention as a result of the length of their possible sentences if Mr. Ahmad, Human Rights Court Decision Rocks British Muslim CommunityMr. Ahsan, Abu Hamza, Mr Bary and Mr. Al-Fawwaz were extradited."
The men have the right to appeal to the grand chamber of the European court and have three months to make an application. Such appeals are rarely successful. Their families have vowed to fight "to the end", but if the end is their extradition to the US, it may not be too far away.
It may be added here that Babar Ahmad was awarded £60,000 in compensation because of the violence British police used during his December 2003 arrest, during which he was punched, kicked and throttled. He suffered bleeding from his ears and in his urine in a total of 73 injuries and finally in August 2010, six years after his arrest, the police personnel involved in this violence were charged. His case has been supported by the former Transport Minister Sadiq Khan MP, who is a family friend and Labour frontbencher, but not to much avail.
Perhaps because of the circumstances around his arrest as well as the fact that eight years in prison without trial is a shocking thing, as well as the fact that if indeed he had been charged in the UK and in the unlikely event of even being found guilty, he would probably have served any sentence by now, Babar Ahmad's case has had rather more by way of public sympathy than most other people in a similar situation. A few days before the Strasbourg court announced its decision, the BBC interviewed Babar in prison and telecasted the interview in its flagship Newsnight programme. (The interview itself came only after a high court challenge by the broadcaster).
In the interview, Babar admitted he had previously fought "battles" in Bosnia but said he believed terrorism to be wrong.
He told the BBC: "I am facing extradition to the United States and spending the rest of my life in solitary confinement. I have never been questioned about allegations against me and I have never been shown any evidence against me."
"It is fair to say I'm fighting for my life and I'm running out of time."
He accused the British police of "outsourcing" the case to the Americans. He said: "All the offences against me are alleged to have happened in this country.
"Had the police and CPS put me on trial in 2003 – which they could have done – I would have left prison years ago regardless of the outcome. I have been in this nightmare fighting extradition for the past eight years."
"I absolutely reject any allegation that I have supported terrorism in any way and in any place – whether in Chechnya, or Afghanistan, or any other part of the world."
"I believe terrorism to be wrong and I believe targeting and killing innocent people to be wrong."
During the eight years Babar has been in prison, he has lost his job and his marriage.
At the centre of the US case against Babar Ahmad is evidence that was not seen by the British legal authorities before it was sent to the US – a situation described in parliament by both the Conservative MP Dominic Raab and the Labour MP Andy Slaughter as 'Kafkaesque'.
There have even been suggestions by the media that keenness of the police to have Babar extradited to the US may be due to a desire to deflect attention from their own wrongdoings in this case. The UK has meanwhile prosecuted several people for terrorism-related offences involving extremist websites, some of them are the very websites hosted in the US at the centre of the allegations against Babar, his lawyers say.
At the back of it, all is the very unequal 'special relationship' between Britain and the US. The extradition treaty between the two countries, which does not allow the evidence against the accused to be a part of the extradition proceedings, is but one aspect of it. In a more naked and striking form, the complete dominance of the US which marks this relationship was clearly visible in a statement by John Bolton, the American ambassador to the UN under George Bush, made on the eve of the Strasbourg ruling when it was widely expected that the court would decide against extradition. Bolton said: "Britain should renounce the jurisdiction of this court. It's a question of what do British people want to do? Do you want to be an independent nation, or do you want to be a county in Europe?"
"This is just another example of Britain's mistake in allowing European institutions to develop to the extent they have. It is yet another infringement on British sovereignty that undercuts its ability to cooperate with the United States.
"It also calls into question the ability of Europe as a whole to be an effective partner in the war against terrorism."
A Roman Consul at the height of the Roman Empire could not have been more pompous. Britain, all said and done, is still the fourth largest economy in the world – food for thought, perhaps, for those who think that rulers in Pakistan are unduly servile to the US!

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