Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad: “Extradition” Film Screenings in London, and an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

3.7.12

Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.

As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.

On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.

As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.”

In that article, I also explained briefly why Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon face extradition, despite the fact that none of the men has ever even visited the US:

Talha Ahsan is a poet and writer with Asperger’s syndrome who has been detained for six years without charge or trial; Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial for eight years, longer than any other British citizen in modern British history (and both men are accused of alleged crimes involving web-based militant activity); Gary McKinnon, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US agency websites ten years ago and has been fighting extradition ever since; and Richard O’Dwyer is accused of breaching US copyright laws, despite the fact that what he is accused of does not constitute a crime in the UK.

In recent weeks, Richard O’Dwyer’s case has been taken up by parts of the mainstream media, and a petition initiated by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has attracted over 200,000 signatures. However, we are still no closer to amending the treaty so that it is fair and proportionate, as Liberty has been demanding, calling for the following three amendments:

  • Someone should not be extradited to another country for actions that are not criminal in the UK;
  • A basic case should be made to a British court before someone can be sent abroad to face trial in another country; and
  • If a significant part of the conduct that led to the alleged crime took place in the UK, then a British court should be able to decide if it is in the interests of justice to extradite.

As Noam Chomsky has stated, in Talha’s case:

With the sharp deterioration of protection of elementary civil rights in the US, no one should be extradited to the country on charges related to alleged terrorism. The constitutional lawyer in the White House, after all, has just made it clear that the due process provisions of the US Constitution (and Magna Carta) can be satisfied by an internal discussion in the executive branch. And that is hardly the only example.  Furthermore, the prisons and the incarceration system in general are an international scandal. The shallow and evasive charges in this case strongly reinforce that conclusion. I wish you the best success in your campaign to block extradition for Talha Ahsan.

The screenings of “Extradition,” which are all free, are as follows:

Wednesday July 4, 7pm: no-w-here lab, 316-318 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 OAG.
Speakers: Andy Worthington (Guantánamo campaigner), Pippa Koszerek (Arts Against Extraditions) and Hamja Ahsan.
Tube: Bethnal Green.
See no-w-here’s website, and also see the Facebook page for this event.

Friday July 6, 6.30 pm: Hallows on the Wall, 83 London Wall, London, EC2M 5NA.
Speakers: Bruce Kent, the celebrated peace activist and former priest, and Stephen Sizer, the vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with short presentations by relatives and activists who will offer tools to help lobby.
RSVP: Stephen Sizer – 07970 789549.
Nearest station: Liverpool St.
Also see the Facebook page for this event.

Saturday July 7, 6.45 pm: IHRC Bookshop, 202 Preston Road, Wembley, London, HA9 8PA.
Speakers and writers tbc.
Tube: Preston Road.

The other screening I will be attending will be on Tuesday July 17 or Wednesday July 18 at St Augustine’s Church, Tooting, and I will provide an update when I find out which date has been chosen, and also find out the time of the screening.

In conclusion, I’d like to encourage readers in the UK to check out the Early Day Motion about extradition, submitted to the UK Parliament by the indefatigable Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party), and to contact your MP if he or she has not supported it (just 52 MPs have signed up at present), and also to urgently send a letter to the European Court of Human Rights asking the judges to re-examine the cases of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan.

The EDM “notes that it has been over five months since [Parliament] passed a motion on 5 December 2011 calling on the Government to reform the UK’s extradition arrangements to strengthen the protection of British citizens by both introducing, as a matter of urgency, a Bill to enact the safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Fifteenth Report of Session 2010-12,HC 767, and by pursuing such amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 and the EU Council Framework Decision 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant as are necessary in order to give effect to such recommendations.”

The letter to the European Court of Human Rights was publicised yesterday by the “Free Babar Ahmad” campaign, although it also applies to Talha Ahsan. As the campaigners noted:

On 10 April 2012, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the appeal of Babar Ahmad against his extradition to the US finding that this would not breach his human rights. Babar’s solicitors have until 10 July 2012 to request permission from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights for the Court to re-examine the case. If they grant permission, Babar’s case will be examined one final time. If they refuse permission, Babar could be on a plane to the US within days.

We are requesting all campaigners to write to the President of the European Court of Human Rights and request that he grants permission for Babar’s case to be reconsidered for the following reasons:

  • The Court knowingly accepted false evidence from the UK government that prisoners in ADX Florence (where they propose to imprison Babar) spent on average 3 years only in solitary confinement before entering the ‘Step Down’ programme to end their isolation. However, the Court refused to accept accurate rebuttal evidence from Babar Ahmad’s lawyers that dozens of ADX Florence prisoners have been in solitary confinement for over 10 years, on the basis that there was not enough time to consider it. This was despite the fact that the Court had already been considering the case for almost five years.
  • The Court refused to accept submissions on solitary confinement by the eminent Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
  • The Court ruled that the ADX Florence prison regime does not amount to isolation because its inmates can shout to each other through the ventilation system.
  • Just over a week after the judgement, the UK Attorney-General Dominic Grieve QC MP unashamedly admitted in public that the pressure the UK government had been applying for political reform of the ECtHR had led to rulings in the UK’s favour, such as the Hamza ruling.
  • The Court concluded that imposing an irreducible whole life sentence on Babar Ahmad would “not be grossly disproportionate” (Paragraph 243 of Chamber judgement) even though he has not been accused of a capital offence, in which someone was killed. The Court came to this conclusion by lumping together six distinct cases as one without considering the individual facts of each case.

Please write to the European Court of Human Rights. A sample letter is available on the website of the “Free Babar Ahmad” campaign.

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 April 2012, “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 please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. “Extradition” Film Screenings in London, and an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights | Andy Worthington « Technospunky blah blah blogging on wordpress says...

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  2. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy.

    I followed a link to the BBC you offered, and noticed that one of the allegations is that Ahsan and Ahmad helped find suspected terrorists place to live.

    That seems problematic to me. If Ahsan and Ahmad didn’t know of any association with terrorism when they helped a newcomer find a place to stay, I question whether that help establishes that they were terrorist sympathizers, even if, for the sake of argument, they helped an actual terrorist find a place to stay.

    Secondly, the USA’s insistence that a casual connection with a suspect makes one a suspect, means that the people they helped might have been at several removes from any genuine terrorists, or may have had zero connection with genuine terrorists.

    The USA still insists it was justified to send Maher Arar to Syria for torture. What was his connection. Abdullah Amalki had witnessed a lease he signed on a new apartment, in the early 1990s. Abdullah Amalki had briefly volunteered for Human Concern International, the same charity that Ahmed Said Khadr worked for, and the two crossed paths in Pakistan again in the early 1990s. And Ahmed Said Khadr was a friend, or associate, or friendly associate, of Osama bin Laden.

    Who is a terrorist suspect in US eyes is like the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” movie trivia game. We are all related, at several removes, with everyone else.

    Back in December 2005 I attended 2 days of Abdullah Khadr’s first extradition hearing in Toronto. I think there may be parallels between the two cases. Abdullah fought extradition for six years. Finally he was released.

    One of the oddest things about the hearing was that it appeared to me the Boston D.A. and FBI officials who prepared the extradition request had shown disrespect to the Canadian justice system. The request was vague, and some kind of official seal covered most of the first page — rendering it illegible. Most of the first day of the hearing was spent speculating as to what the obfuscated portions of the request said.

    If I was the judge I would have thrown the request out of court, and told the Americans to try again.

    One of the most insulting charges was that Khadr had traded in “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. This charge was filed, when the USA still hadn’t given up on finding Saddam Hussein’s vast arsenal of WMD. If Saddam Hussein hadn’t been able to buy WMD with his billions of stolen Oil-for-food funds, I thought it was insulting for the US prosecutor to claim 23 year old Abdullah Khadr had been able to buy some in Pakistan’s backward tribal areas for a few thousand dollars.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Great insight into how “six degrees of separation” has been used to make any Muslim under suspicion, for whatever reason, into a suspect for some connection of other that they reportedly had. It’s the kind of nonsense that runs through the Guantanamo files, and, of course, those webs extended – and still extend – beyond Guantanamo and other US “war on terror” prisons, poisoning intelligence throughout countries that were – and are – America’s allies as well. And sadly, that global web of false intelligence has not been properly anlayzed yet …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    After the screening on July 4, I wrote:

    Great film, Hamja. Lovely to see you, and to meet Karen and the other great people at no-w-here, none of whom I had met before. What a location! Very poignant tonight, and glad so many people were there. My thoughts are with you and your family, and with Babar’s family – and, of course, with Talha and Babar above all. The weight of an oppressive, unjust system weighed heavily this evening, and we need a concerted effort as urgently as possible to try to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to reconsider its opinion (with just a few days left), and for MPs to take up the cases here, for David Cameron, Theresa May and William Hague to be bombarded with requests not to extradite the men, and Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to be urged to try them here.

  5. Thomas says...

    If they are extradited, they will be denied good lawyers as they can’t afford them, and forced to plead guilty if they don’t want to face life imprisonment in a supermax prison.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s right, Thomas, although they might get good lawyers if the campaign has established connections between lawyers who work for those accused of terrorism in the US and the UK. However, they will still be up against a legal system in which 98 or 99 percent of cases that involve the words “muslim” and “terrorism” end in convictions, so that the only wise course will be to agree a plea deal, and accepting guilt, whether real or not, in exchange for a 15 or 20 year sentence. It’s very sad and very wrong.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    I’m overjoyed you are out there speaking; I am doing a big postal campaign. I was going to see my MP, but missed out; I’ve now booked an appointment for next weekend. I think this campaign must be very vibrant and dynamic; otherwise it will fail.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Malcolm. There’s certainly a lot of work going on, in Richard O’Dwyer’s case and Gary McKinnon’s, as well as Talha and Babar’s cases. I’m not sure the public is as aware as the families of how a united front is needed – largely because the media has been content to focus on individuals rather than on the need for root-and-branch reform of the extradition treaty – but at least the cases are being discussed. Ignorance is a great cover for all kinds of wrongdoing.

  9. Kelly says...

    Another victim of the warped US system is Phillip Harkins. Mr Harkins has been remanded in custody for over 9 years now here in the UK fighting extradition to Florida. Mr Harkins case is extremely weak, and a very questionable deal struck with the co-accused seems to get overlooked in every appeal. The UK government and ECHR fail to recognise that if Mr Harkins is sent back, he will face LWOP (life without parole) or even the possibility of the death penalty for a crime (that, even If he was guilty) would amount to manslaughter! Also, there is no way Mr Harkins will receive a fair trial due to the deal struck with the co-accused, therefore this breaches article 6 of the ECHR convention. it disgusts me that the British government can’t and won’t protect their own nationals, and are willing to send them back to a country where they know the justice system is full of corruption, racism, and deal striking. Pretty pathetic and spineless really, that they don’t have the balls to stand up and admit that the US justice system is inhuman. Please visit our website http://www.usextraditionvictim.co.uk there you’ll find the full extent of Mr Harkins fight to try clear his name and some shocking depositions revealing how corrupt the US justice system can be…

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kelly, for alerting me to Phillip Harkins’ story, which I hadn’t come across before. In so many cases people’s lives are sacrificed for the benefit of Blair’s version of the “special relationship,” and underlying it all is the obvious inhumanity and brutality of the US justice system and of US prisons, which desperately need fundamental reform.

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