More than 100,000 people have signed a petition asking for Babar Ahmad to face trial in the UK. Ahmad is a 37-year-old British Muslim citizen who has been held by British officials for seven years without charge, pending extradition to the USA. The campaign is also focusing attention upon the one-sided US-UK extradition treaty, part of the Extradition Act 2003.
In December 2003, Babar Ahmad was arrested at his London home under anti-terror legislation. By the time he reached the police station Ahmad had sustained 73 forensically recorded injuries, including bleeding in his ears and urine. Six days later, he was released without charge.
In August 2004, Ahmad was re-arrested in London and imprisoned pending an extradition request from the US under the controversial, no-evidence-required, Extradition Act 2003. The US has alleged that Ahmad was a supporter of “terrorism” in the 1990s, which he denies.
Babar Ahmad is now the longest serving British detainee without charge. In March 2009 the Metropolitan Police finally admitted in the Royal Courts of Justice in London that they did indeed carry out the assault on him during his first arrest in 2003. Despite paying him £60,000 compensation, the Met did not offer an apology for the actions of its officers.
Things got more complex. Ahmad’s conversation with his local MP, Sadiq Khan, was reportedly monitored by the police during prison visits. The police officers who were accused of assault were later acquitted. Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC, the Recorder of Westminster and Deputy High Court Judge, expressed hope that Ahmad’s ‘ordeal’ would come to an end as quickly as possible. His family has made a direct plea to the prime minister to “back the British justice system and support British trials for British citizens”.
In its press release on Babar, the Muslim Council of Britain has urged all British citizens to sign the petition calling for Ahmad to be put on trial in the UK. MCB Secretary General, Farooq Murad, insisted: “The British government has a responsibility to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected while at the same time ensuring justice is served.”
Adding to these voices is Britain’s first Muslim Privy Councillor and Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP, saying: “As Babar’s Member of Parliament, I have worked with his family and legal team for a number of years arguing that any trial should be held in the UK.” He pleaded with the current coalition government to intervene (as he did with the Labour government previously).
Problems with the law
It is not so much Babar Ahmad’s guilt or innocence as his right to a trial within the UK that is at question: something the current US-UK treaty does not seem to permit. Ahmad’s extradition looks likely to proceed unless the British government intervenes. This touches upon the very heart of British justice and our ability to stand up against an “unbalanced” relationship with the US.
A report released by the House of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on June 22 this year urged the UK government to change the law so that Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition could be ended without further delay.
The Extradition Act 2003 has been inviting controversy from day one (it came into force on January 1, 2004). It allows the US to extradite British citizens and others for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK. There is no reciprocal right to extradition from the US to the UK; and there are issues about the levels of proof required.
Among other provisions, part two of the act: Extradition to category two territories (non-European Arrest warrant territories) removed the requirement of the USA to provide prima facie evidence in extraditions from the UK. They are only required to show “reasonable suspicion”. UK citizens also lose their entitlement to legal aid once they are extradited to US jurisdiction: costs are largely left to the defendant’s private means.
In a 2006 statement, after the High Court’s determination that Babar Ahmad could be extradited to the USA to face terror-related charges, the civil rights group Liberty said: “The Extradition Act 2003 undermines longstanding safeguards against unfair removal and unfortunately appears to be more about politics than law.”
Not least, article ten of the UN Declaration on Human Rights notes that “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him”. That seems unlikely in Babar Ahmad’s case.
There are other high profile cases involving this flawed extradition law, such as Gary McKinnon: in 2009 the Conservative Party tabled a vote on his case, calling for reform to show just how flawed the US-UK extradition treaty has become.
The government has now initiated a review of this “unbalanced” treaty. My hope is that it takes a lead in defending all its citizens, as the Conservative Party did for McKinnon when it was in opposition. The alleged crimes may be different but the issues remain the same. And at a time when Muslims are increasingly entering “mainstream” life in Britain – in business, in political engagement, commemorating Remembrance Sunday – it is sad to note that the decision to extradite Babar Ahmad puts a strain on those growing ties.
It is time we got rid of this uneven extradition treaty and placed trust in our own justice system.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). He is a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust, and former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.