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:
An Interview With Babar Ahmad
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.