An e-petition has gone viral in the last few days calling for everyone to sign the online petition to free Babar Ahmad. Ahmad was detained in 2004 and is the longest serving prisoner detained without charge or trial in the UK since the ‘war on terror’.*
Talha Ahsan, is another British detainee and has been in prison without trial or charge for five years. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and was known by friends and family as a ‘sincere and caring’ individual. He seems to be the antithesis of the profile we delineate for a terrorist.
He is awaiting a decision from the European Court of Human Rights regarding an extradition request filed by the US government.
He is accused by the US of terrorism-related offences arising out of his alleged involvement with a series of websites, which were used to recruit people to join Chechen and Afghan Mujahideen fighters linked to al-Qaeda.
Ahsan faces 70 years in “supermax” solitary confinement in ADX Florence, America.
Spin‘s James Lee caught up with Talha’s brother, Hamja Ahsan.
How did you feel when your brother was taken in by the authorities?
The shock of my brother’s arrest was all the more greater as I had attended a demo for Babar Ahmad just the week before, thinking it might be my brother next. It was.
The police had searched our house February of that year. They even took some of my CDs by obscure Japanese punk bands (perhaps they found the labels suspicious), my diary, my mobile phone and even silly things like my nephews cartoons and my PlayStation memory cards. Five years later and none of that stuff is back. However, as no further action was forthcoming, I assumed that would be the end of it – just a fishing exercise because my brother was involved in campaigning against the unjust excesses of the US war on terror.
How have you dealt with the whole situation?
Things happen for a reason. Hard won rights and protections against injustices [happen] only through the suffering of the few.
Do you think the UK extradition laws need reviewing? If so, why?
The Extradition Act 2003 devalues the sovereignty of British citizenship. It was fast-tracked into UK legislation without proper scrutiny.
In June 2011 the cross-party Joint Committee of Human Rights called for the implementation of a ‘most appropriate forum’ safeguard. This would allow a British judge to refuse extradition where the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK.
The Committee of MPs and peers also recommended that the Government ‘urgently’ renegotiate the US-UK extradition treaty to exclude granting requests in cases where the UK police and prosecution authorities have already decided not to charge or prosecute the individual on the same evidence adduced by the US authorities.
A country that has demonstrated such a flagrant disregard for human rights in recent years is not the proper forum for justice. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary who was responsible for the Act now expresses regret at its consequences. Any concerned British citizen must work against such a law.
Are you involved in any activities to get Talha released?
In February this year I travelled from London to Edinburgh to participate in an event led by novelist A L Kennedy to launch a booklet of Talha’s poems from prison, entitled ‘This Be The Answer’. She alone with actor Tam Dean Burn read out some of the pieces.
I encourage readers to write to their MPs that the Attorney General tries my brother in the UK regardless of his innocence or guilt. Whilst in prison Talha has assisted English classes for foreign nationals, completed courses in computing and mentoring, and has won prizes for his creative writing. Seventy years solitary confinement in a US Supermax prison will deny him all opportunity to be the productive and supportive person that he is.
What, in your opinion, are the reasons why the authorities have arrested Talha?
The purpose of terrorism is not material damage but to create panic that makes the target react irrationally. The Extradition Act 2003 was rushed through parliament in such an atmosphere. In this way, sadly, the Government has let the 9/11 planners win over our hardwon civil liberties, through their illegitimate attacks.
How is your family feeling about the issue?
My father, a 72 year old with eye problems, had expected my brother to take over the family business. Instead, he has still been working for the last five years to ensure that the shop we live above is still there when his son will come back one day. It has caused an horrendous amount of distress to my my mother.
In addition to the case of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan is that of Gary McKinnon, who was alleged to have hacked into US defence computers.