On Thursday, I’ll be taking part in an event in London to raise awareness of the plight of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen, and a poet who suffers from Asberger’s Syndrome. Talha, who also gained a first class honours degree in Arabic from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London), planned to become a librarian, but has been imprisoned for six years without charge or trial in the UK, while pursuing legal challenges to prevent his proposed extradition to the US. The event is taking place on the sixth anniversary of his arrest at his home, on July 19, 2006.
This will be my second appearance at an event in support of Talha. Two weeks ago, I took part in a moving event in Bethnal Green, in East London, The event in Bethnal Green, at the premises of the arts organisation no.w.here, involved a screening of the new documentary film, “Extradition,” directed by Turab Shah, which tells the stories of Talha Ahsan and also of Babar Ahmad, imprisoned for eight years without charge or trial, who also faces extradition to the US. 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, and at the event on July 4, there was a palpable feeling that, within days, Talha and Babar might find their last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, leading to their imminent extradition to the US — and solitary confinement in a Supermax prison.
Fortunately, the date that a decision on the appeal was to be made — July 10 — has now been extended to September, allowing campaigners some more time to try to persuade the British government to intervene. Talha and Babar Ahmad are accused of hosting a website from 1997 to 2004 promoting jihad in countries where Muslims faced oppression, but it is difficult to see what justification there is for extraditing them to the US, where a biased judicial system will probably sentence them to decades in solitary confinement, for two particular reasons.
The first reason is that there are severe problems with the definition of the “crimes” in the first place, because the Crown Prosecution Service had “insufficient evidence” to prosecute Babar Ahmad –and by extension Talha Ahsan — in the UK, and also because the alleged crimes took place in the UK, and what evidence does exist was obtained in the UK by the British police. Secondly, the US-UK Extradition Treaty, approved by Tony Blair in 2003, needs an urgent overhaul, if it is to be at all fair and proportionate. Liberty, for example, has a long-running campaign, in which it has been calling for the following three amendments to the treaty:
This Thursday, to mark the sixth anniversary of Talha’s imprisonment, I’ll be taking part in an event in central London, the details of which are below:
Marking 6 years of Detention without trial or charge for Talha Ahsan: Poetry, film & tributes from friends, artists, writers & family
Thursday, July 19, 2012, 7pm to 9pm: Zakat House, 233 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EE.
Speakers: Gareth Peirce, Hamja Ahsan, Amrit Wilson (writer and activist), Zita Holborne (poet and activist), and Andy Worthington (investigative journalist and activist). There will also be a representative of Doctors Against Extraditions, introducing a new campaign point with the British Medical Association.
This event will be webcast by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC).
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road.
Below are statements of support for Talha by the novelist A.L. Kennedy and the Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, and below that is a video of Avaes Mohammad reading out Talha’s powerful poem “Extradition”:
“I know Talha Ahsan as a poet and I have written to him during his confinement at Long Lartin prison. I have been moved and sustained by his optimism, humour and gentleness in those letters. That Talha has been imprisoned for years without trial in my country shames me as a UK citizen. Talha is also a UK citizen. He is being held at the request of a foreign power under the terms of a treaty which does not require the production of prima facie evidence and, indeed, no evidence of that nature has been produced. It also seems clear that whatever allegations have been concocted are partly the fruits of torture and therefore not only morally corrosive, but also thoroughly unreliable. That my government would give Talha no assistance in a time of absolute need and would, in fact, help engineer his distress is another indication of its utterly reckless, unsustainable and inhuman stance on human rights.”
A. L. Kennedy, novelist
‘Between them, the USA and the UK have invented a policy — imprisonment without trial. What do we say to this? It is both utterly wrong in principle and wrong in the particular case of Talha Ahsan and others suffering under this policy. This threatens every single one of us. It is in effect a de facto not a de iure law that appears on no statute books and yet can be used any time two countries with extradition agreements decide to apply it. Talha is suffering because of this. No, he has already suffered. Even if he was guilty of anything, it would be still utterly wrong in terms of the justice we are all entitled to that he has been imprisoned without trial. Let’s not forget Pastor Niemoeller’s words — and let’s adapt them too: “First they came for Talha Ahsan, and because I am not a Muslim, I said nothing …”
Michael Rosen, poet, broadcaster and Children’s Laureate
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, Flickr (my photos) 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.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and whilst I do not think by itself that Asperger’s Syndrome should be the sole reason someone is not extradited, I do think if they’re extradited they won’t get a fair trial. They’ll get a choice, to plead guilty or face a huge risk of being tossed into a Supermax prison until they die.
Yes, that’s exactly right, Thomas. The set-up is such that, if you plead guilty, you get, say, 15-20 years, but if you insist on fighting, you’ll probably be fund guilty and get a life sentence, especially in cases that involve Muslims and terror allegations, where there is an almost 100 percent conviction rate.
These are my thoughts after the event:
It was a good evening, although it was also sad, as these events for Talha always are, because of the indifference of senior ministers here in the UK, and the disproportionate nature of the US government’s demands, seeking to extradite Talha despite him having committed no crime, to face a brutal regime of lengthy pre-trial isolation, racist juries and, after the inevitable plea deal requiring a guilty plea to reduce a life sentence to one of decades instead, solitary confinement in a Supermax prison.
And all this for a bright, articulate poet whose gentle, perceptive, amusing and moving language makes clear that he is no fanatic.
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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