Please sign the petition! 100,000 signatures needed (current total: 52,000). Today has been designated National Babar Ahmad Day by his supporters. UPDATE November 2: Congratulations, everyone! 100,863 signatures! Well done to all those involved in this extraordinary campaign!
On August 11, the family of Babar Ahmad launched an e-petition, calling on the UK government to put him on trial in the UK, and bring to an end his seven years of imprisonment without charge or trial in the UK, pending extradition to the US under the controversial Extradition Act of 2003, whereby the US government can demand the extradition of British citizens to face trials in the US without having to provide any evidence that there is a case to answer.
100,000 signatures are needed by November 10, to trigger an official request that Babar Ahmad be tried in the UK. As the petition explains: “In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament, Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”
For Babar Ahmad, accused of being involved, in the 1990s, with a website supporting fighters in Chechnya, the great irony is that the Americans’ case is based on the same allegations that failed to stand up to scrutiny in the UK. Ahmad was first arrested at his home in Tooting in December 2003, but was later released without charge, although he suffered 73 injuries as a result of the brutal treatment to which he was subjected at the time of his arrest, and was awarded £60,000 in damages in March 2009, when, as the Daily Telegraph reported:
Babar Ahmad offered no resistance when officers came to arrest him at his home in Tooting, south west London, in December 2003 but he was placed in a life-threatening neck hold, had his testicles pulled and was forced into a praying position while an officer shouted: “Where is your god now?” The arresting officers had been briefed that Ahmad, a 34-year-old married IT support analyst who had worked at Imperial College for six years, was believed to be connected to al-Qaeda and was the head of a south London terrorist group.
By the time he was awarded the damages, however, Ahmad had already been imprisoned, pending extradition to the US, for four years and seven months, as he was seized on behalf of the US government in August 2004, and has been held in Long Lartin prison ever since. Almost five years ago, on November 30, 2006, he lost his appeal against extradition at the High Court, and on June 4, 2007, the Law Lords refused to grant him leave to appeal. A week later, on June 10, 2007, the European Court of Human Rights accepted his appeal, and ordered the British government not to extradite him until that appeal had been considered.
In July 2010, the ECHR halted the extradition of Babar Ahmad and three other men — Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat and Talha Ahsan — and called for further submissions, after lawyers argued that, if they were convicted in the US, their conditions of confinement would be so severe that they would amount to a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF), which guarantees that no one will be “subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Lawyers for the men argued that they would face life without parole (except Aswat, who faced a 50-year sentence), and that holding them in a “Supermax” prison, would contravene their rights, because prolonged isolation is a form of torture.
A ruling is expected by the end of the year, but for now, please sign the petition if you have not already done so, and please circulate the information widely, as, despite the considerable achievement to date, 48,000 more signatures are needed in the next two weeks. As the campaigner Maryam Hassan has noted, “We are not asking you to affirm his innocence or guilt, but simply to put him on trial in the UK.” And that, surely, cannot be too much to ask.
See below for the video, “Life is One Big Road – Put Babar Ahmad on Trial in the UK”:
Also, please read the following interview with Babar Ahmad, by Robert Verkaik of the Independent, which was published on July 8, 2010:
Robert Verkaik: Can you describe your life in the UK before your arrest?
Babar Ahmad: I was born in the UK and have spent all my life living in south London in the Balham/Tooting area. At the time of my first arrest in December 2003, I was employed full-time as an ICT Support Analyst at Imperial College London. My job entailed supporting the software needs of undergraduate academic teaching and postgraduate research. I have always been a devout Muslim and others would describe me as adhering to mainstream Islamic teachings. I have never been charged with or convicted of any criminal offence.
Robert Verkaik: Describe the conditions of your detention.
Babar Ahmad: I have been held in a number of prisons throughout the high-security estate since my arrest in 2004. I have been designated a category A prisoner. Initially, I was held on normal wings in prisons, alongside prisoners of all different categories. I was then moved to a small unit in HMP Long Lartin and held with other men fighting extradition or deportation. Over the last year and a half, the conditions of my detention have deteriorated. I spend all day, every day on a small unit with seven other prisoners. We are isolated from all other prisoners and all our time is spent in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small unit. If I am extradited to the US, my conditions will deteriorate further. I face the possibility of life without parole in solitary confinement under the harshest of prison regimes in a Supermax prison, far from home, family and friends.
Robert Verkaik: What is the case against you?
Babar Ahmad: The central US allegations against me revolve around a family of websites that provided news in nearly 20 languages on Chechen resistance fighters who were defending their land against the Russian Army’s invasion of Chechnya in the 1990s. According to the US, this was terrorism [The Home Office says Mr Ahmad is accused of providing material support to terrorists]. But according to UK this was, and still is, legal as Chechen resistance fighters have never been proscribed as a terrorist organisation, unlike al-Qa’ida. In fact, the leader of the Chechen resistance has been living in the UK for several years, having been granted asylum.
The US claims jurisdiction because it is alleged that one of the several dozen computer servers on which the websites were hosted was located in the US for approximately 18 months from early 2000. The US accepts that the websites were also hosted on computer servers around the world and that “at all times material to the indictment” I was living in the UK. Other peripheral allegations against me are that a US naval battleship plan document was allegedly seized from me in December 2003. The media raised uproar about this document when I was arrested on the extradition warrant. However, in a letter to Sadiq Khan MP, the former Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith wrote that it could not even be proven that it was in my possession. Another document seized from my parents’ house was a tourist brochure (belonging to my father) of the Empire State Building in New York, which prompted the media to report “al-Qa’ida planned to attack Empire State Building”. That brochure is dated 1973, which is when my father visited New York. What is more incredible is that UK police returned this brochure to my father after I was arrested on the extradition warrant, yet it still forms part of the evidence against me.
Robert Verkaik: How were you tortured in the UK?
Babar Ahmad: On 2 December 2003, I was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by anti-terrorist police officers at my home in Tooting. During my arrest and subsequent journey to the police station, the officers subjected me to a “serious, prolonged and gratuitous attack” and “grave abuse tantamount to torture”, which left me with at least 73 physical injuries including bleeding in my ears and urine. I was held in custody for six days during which my home and office were searched, computers seized and analysed and I was questioned. On 8 December 2003 I was released without charge, after the CPS determined that there was no evidence to charge me with any criminal offence whatsoever. I believe that part of this decision was based on the fact that any future criminal trial would air embarrassing details of the abuse inflicted on me at my arrest.
Following my release I filed a formal complaint against the police and I gave several interviews describing my treatment. My case began to prove highly embarrassing to the Blair government.
Robert Verkaik: When were you re-arrested?
Babar Ahmad: After two months recovering from my injuries, I returned to work in February 2004 and tried to rebuild my life following my ordeal. On 5 August 2004, on my way home from work, I was re-arrested pursuant to an extradition warrant from the US under the controversial, no-evidence-required US-UK Extradition Treaty and taken to a high-security prison where I have remained ever since. To this day I have not even been questioned about the allegations against me.
Robert Verkaik: Why is the US Government so determined to see you face trial there?
Babar Ahmad: The question to ask is why has the Blair/Brown Government been so determined to extradite me? In my case there is documentary evidence to suggest that it is not the US that is really interested in me, but the Blair/Brown Government that has been determined to send me there at any cost. One only has to read the ferocious, lengthy representations that the Foreign Office has made to the European Court of Human Rights urging, almost begging, the Court to extradite me to the US. Their Herculean efforts eclipse those made by the US government itself.
Robert Verkaik: What message do you have for the Coalition Government in respect of your extradition?
Babar Ahmad: I have now been in prison fighting extradition for six years, which is the equivalent of a 12-year sentence. Whilst in prison I have outlived the the Blair/Brown Labour Government. To their credit, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have steadfastly opposed this controversial UK-US Extradition Treaty and they have pledged, in their published Coalition Agreement, to modify it.
Note: For further information, please see the websites I Believe in Justice: British Justice for British Citizens and Free Babar Ahmad.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
It is morally unacceptable to extradite a British national to a country which has a proven track record of human rights violations, and systematic torture. It flies in the face of everything which made and (hopefully) will continue to make the United Kingdom admired across the world. He must not be deported
Thanks, Jamal. Yes, I agree.
Also, I’m glad to see another 1,500 signatures since I last looked, making about 2,000 today, but about 4,000 a day are needed every day until November 10. Please keep pubicising this!
On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m digging this, Andy. Tomorrow is Occupy Uppsala. I hope to go.
Thanks, George. Looking forward to hearing from you about that. I’ll be posting a report tomorrow hopefully about “Occupy London” over the last week.
Carol Anne Graham wrote:
:( gotta be an UK citizen to sign an epetition, Andy.
Sadly, yes, but fortunately there are many British citizens out there.
Keep on signing, folks! We’re up to 54,112!
Sharon Askew wrote:
Do you share the faith Babar Ahmad has in regards to the coalition government, Andy? Not sure I do, get the feeling they are dragging their heels over this.
Liberty rejected the main conclusions of the Scott Baker review of extradition laws. The review states that a new ‘forum’ rule – which means that the accused should be tried in the UK if the crime was committed here – is not necessary.
Sharon, thanks very much for that. It’s an important addition to the story, and one that I should have highlighted yesterday, when I published the article, as I noted at the time that there were doubts about Babar’s faith in the coalition government. However, I’d missed the Scott Baker review, and Liberty’s comments on it, on October 18.
As well as concluding that “a new ‘forum’ rule – which means that the accused should be tried in the UK if the crime was committed here – is not necessary,” the review also concluded that “the law should not be changed to require that a basic case is made out in a UK court before extradition.”
Although not relevant to Babar’s case, the report also largely accepted the much-criticised European Arrest Warrant as “sound.”
Liberty urged the government to ignore the report’s conclusions, noting that “both Coalition party leaders have strongly criticised extradition laws in opposition. In 2009 the now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that the extradition of Gary McKinnon would amount to ‘a travesty of justice.’ As leader of the opposition David Cameron said that the possibility that McKinnon could be extradited raised ‘serious questions about the workings of the Extradition Act.’”
How easily they lie when in opposition, eh?
Liberty also noted a poll of MPs (conducted by Liberty) in September 2010 “found that 83% of those surveyed agreed or agreed strongly that the forum bar should be introduced. 66% of those polled also agreed or agreed strongly that extradition should only occur if the requesting country first provides evidence in a UK court.”
Ann Alexander wrote:
Thanks, Ann. Keep signing, folks, and telling your friends!
Sharon Askew wrote:
Actually, to be honest, it was reading your article that lead me to finding this, I wasn’t even aware a review had taken place. Obviously not been on the top priority list now in government…
There’s a nice circularity to that, then, Sharon. Thanks for finding it, and yes, you’re right — obviously not a top priority. for the government. Cameron and Clegg have taken lying to new depths, haven’t they? It seems to be a large part of how politics works nowadays – very few principles, if any, and a publicity machine that nudges from one soundbite to another, paying lip service to whatever it is that looks like it will maintain support.
Ann Alexander wrote:
Maryam Hassan wrote:
The Free Babar Ahmad Campaign requires your help to input thousands of signatures from hard copies of the petition onto the e-petitions website in the next 11 days. If you can assist with the data entry so that we can reach our target please email: email@example.com
Malcolm Bush wrote:
I certainly do believe we need all the signatures we can, to make any difference. The authorities are very dogmatic about the whole issue generically. I’ve done a consultation submission related to this whole issue and written and talked to my MP regarding Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. I’ve also written to the FCO, regards the previous criminal activities of the company contracted to conduct rendition flights, and the fact they are an extreme danger to the general public. It is all like water of a ducks back; they’ll continue until we see a major disaster.
Thanks, Malcolm. Good to hear from you. Sadly, I agree that the authorities brush off whatever they wish to. This is a huge and worthy effort though, and although it may conceivably lead to a brush-off from David Cameron, it will hopefully serve as a spur for further pressure in Parliament to push for trials in the Uk for crimes that allegedly occurred here. Justice is very transparently not served by sending people to America where material support charges seem to be so vague, and sentencing so harsh that the mere act of extradition seems to be a life sentence.
And now we’re up to 69,290 signatures, which is excellent news!
Giacomella Jackie Milesi Ferretti wrote:
I would have loved to sign but I was not allowed as I am not a UK citizen or resident… Italian citizen…
Thanks for your support, Giacomella, even though you can’t sign the petition.
Lotta Leben wrote:
I’m not sure, but I believe, that this is even a case for the EU court in Strasbourg! I know, that the UK didn’t join some of the EU common agreements, or they agreed but the parliament didn’t ratify, is still discussing or similar diplomat’s tricks, but human rights should be a common agreement for every EU member! Do you know about the specific UK rules, Andy?
Or does any reader here know about?
As far as I know, Lotta, the UK has to follow EU rules. It’s why Babar’s case has gone to Europe, and why ridiculous right-wingers want the UK to scrap the Human Rights Act, which is hopefully impossible, as it would actually mean dropping out of Europe and dropping out of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a fundamental document, and one that the UK played a major part in creating and ratifying in 1950.
Lotta Leben wrote:
So far is a petition to the EU high court in Strasbourg an option too – and we other Europeans could sign it! Even if the result doesn’t match with the expected goal – to save Babar Ahmad – such a petition could lead to fundamental discussions and decisions of the EU court and the EU High Council in my opinion! You will certainly know, that German high secretaries and ministers were involved in handing over German citizens to the CIA, which held them in secret prisons where they were tortured. Probably occured similar assaults and breach of national and international laws in other European countries too. But no court was involved then!
I don’t suppose petitioning a court would work, Lotta, but politicians certainly should be paying attention across Europe to the problems with the European Arrest Warrant and the extradition arrangements with the US. A pan-Eureopean campaign would be a great idea.
Nadine Khan wrote:
It will be tragic if we don’t make the 100,000 signatures. To the pessimists…be optimistic now. We are nearly there! It will literally only take a few minutes of your time to make a difference in the lifetime of our brother Babar Ahmad and his family. Please sign the petition and get your family and friends to do the same.
Thanks, Nadine. That’s great encouragement, and no one should be complacent about it, but I do think it’s within reach. Currently there are 78,305 signatures.
YES! 100,863 signatures! Well done, everyone involved in this extraordinary campaign!
But here’s a warning from Sulaiman Ibn Rehana:
OK, I gotta warn you guys something, so spread the word.
100,000 signatures legally is not enough. A lot of people have used fake addresses, etc; so 100,000 is not enough. If we all celebrate at 100,000 and then the government’s petition section count it up and find 10,000 invalid signatures, the petition is going to be rejected.
And this is a reality that we have to face. We are gonna need at least 110,000 to play it safe, and the way it’s going i think we are gonna get at least 125,000 signatures; so people can’t stop signing it just because it has reached 100,000.
Absolutely agree with Sulaiman and would even suggest no limit at all, as some non-Brits may have given in to the temptation to sign anyway, so we do have to continue promoting the appeal until the very last day!
Thanks, Anna. Yes, especially as the government will no doubt want any excuse for not dealing with this — despite what David Cameron said while in opposition. I also hope campaigners are ready for more hard work — trying to interest MPs, in particular.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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