With less than a month before the online petition concerning Babar Ahmad closes, his sister Amna spoke to Felix about her brother’s experience. For the past seven years, Babar Ahmad has been in prison fighting extradition to the United States. The current petition, launched two months ago, calls on the UK Government to put him on trial in the UK.
Babar Ahmad, a British citizen, studied engineering as an undergraduate at Imperial, before moving on to an IT support role at the college. In 2003, he was arrested under UK anti-terror legislation, but was released after six days without charge. During his brief time in prison he sustained multiple injuries from the officers who held him in custody. A year later, the United States filed a request for his extradition (under the controversial Extradition Act 2003) and he was re-arrested. Since then, he has remained in prison, challenging his impending extradition to the US.
Babar Ahmad’s sister Amna fears that if he is extradited to the US, he will face a life in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison. She says he wants to be tried in Britain as a British citizen and “does not understand why he needs to go to the US”. Amna believes that once the UK authorities realized they could not prosecute Babar, they asked the US to initiate proceedings against him instead. She claims the reason for this is that if Babar was tried in the UK, “it would expose embarrassing details of the way the Police treated him … and collusion between UK and US authorities in relation to his case”.
Babar Ahmad’s case is just one episode in a tale that has lasted over a decade. In the years since the 9/11 attacks, a slew of anti-terror legislation has been passed into law, by Governments both here and in the US. Particularly controversial elements of this legislation include the authorisation to make arrests without evidence, to detain people indefinitely without charge and to use extreme methods of torture to obtain information.
“He should face trial in front of his peers”
Many argue that resorting to such illiberal measures undermines the fundamental values of our free society. One of these is the principle of sovereignty: that a country cannot charge a foreign national with an offence committed on foreign soil, and it is in this respect that Babar Ahmad’s case is unusual. The Extradition Act 2003 allows the US to extradite British citizens for crimes committed in Britain, without having to provide evidence (there is no reciprocal arrangement for the UK to extradite American citizens).
Amna Ahmad argues that “extradition is for fugitives who commit a crime in one country and run away to another country. [Babar Ahmad] has never lived or worked in the US, and even the US acknowledges that all the allegations against him took place whilst he was living and working in the UK. If the material was collected from the UK and the alleged offences are said to have occurred in the UK then he should face trial in the UK, in front of a jury of his peers.”
Babar Ahmad’s supporters have launched a petition, urging the Government to allow him to stand trial in the UK. So far, the petition has received 23,000 signatures. If this number reaches 100,000, the Government is required to debate it in Parliament. Amna says “it will send a strong signal to the British Government … that there is sufficient public support behind our quest.” However, given the Government’s reluctance so far to compromise on the issue, the outcome of such a debate remains doubtful.
Nevertheless, Amna is closely involved with the Free Babar Ahmad Campaign and is actively engaged in promoting the online petition. She believes it is “shocking that our Government can hold a man without trial for over 7 years” and that “uncertainty of fate is a very difficult thing for any human being to deal with”.
Links to the petition and more information on Babar Ahmad’s case can be found at https://www.freebabarahmad.com/