Disturbing news from the legal action charity Reprieve, which reports that Mohammed El-Gharani, who was released from Guantánamo one week ago, “is still detained by the police in Chad — with no prospect of release.” Seized by Pakistani forces in a random raid on a mosque in Karachi and sold to US forces, El-Gharani was just 14 years old at the time, and was treated appallingly in Pakistani custody, and in US custody in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, before a judge finally ruled in January that the US government had failed to establish a case against him — having relied solely on information provided by unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo — and ordered his release.
Chris Chang, an investigator with Reprieve, and Ahmed Ghappour, an attorney, returned yesterday from a trip to Chad in which they had hoped to celebrate Mohammed’s freedom, but were “dismayed and disappointed” to discover that he is now a prisoner of the Chadian authorities, “sleeping on a cot in a police station while his family waits anxiously outside.” They added, “Mohammed cannot leave the main police headquarters without authorization from the Head of the Judicial Police, and even after obtaining that permission he is accompanied by a police officer wherever he goes. He has asked on several occasions to be released and reunited with his family but continues to be told, ‘Just another night, Mohammed.’” They also said that there has been no public announcement in Chad regarding his return and that he has been forbidden from speaking to the media.
In a press release, Chris Chang stated, “For over two years the Chadian government has worked with Reprieve to fight for Mohammed’s freedom and resettlement in his native Chad. It is appalling that he continues to be held. This is not freedom.” Ahmed Ghappour added, “Mohammed’s detention defies even Chadian law, where you cannot be held longer than 48 hours without being charged with a crime. What is disturbing about this ordeal is the Chadian government’s insistence that Mohammed is not a prisoner, mirroring the doublespeak used by the US towards the end of Mohammed’s term. He was designated a ‘freed detainee’ for months before his transfer to Chad.”
In spite of the media ban, Reprieve managed to secure a single poignant comment from El-Gharani, after asking him what his hopes are for the future. “I just want to be free,” he said.
Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, added, “Enough is enough. Mohammed has suffered seven years of abuse and illegal imprisonment from the age of 14. Our lawyers have proved his innocence and it is disgraceful that he is still not free. We call on the Chad government to show compassion to Mohammed and his family and release him immediately.”
UPDATE 7 pm: AFP reports that El-Gharani has now been freed. National police chief General Youssouf Chakir told the agency, “He was freed at 4:30 pm (1530 GMT). He was handed over to his uncle to return to his home.” He added that he was “not charged with any crime.” AFP also reported that Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bashir said before his release that El-Gharani was subject to “our own investigations and verification of his Chadian nationality.” He added, “We were sent someone without any documents, no papers on him, not even a legal paper. We don’t know on what judicial basis he was freed.”
This explanation seems highly unlikely, as Reprieve had been working closely with the government of Chad for many years, to establish who El-Gharani was, and why the basis for his detention was groundless. This suggests that his detention for a week was perhaps related to internal politics, and that his sudden release this afternoon, just hours after Reprieve issued its press release, came about because the Chadian government was unwilling to put itself in a position where it faced scrutiny from outside the country, which would not have reflected well on its reluctance to send El-Gharani back to his family.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
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