The dramatic developments in the case of Julian Assange have once again thrust the subject of extradition into the public eye. Although no request for extradition to the United States has been made, it’s clear that Assange’s decision to seek refuge in Ecuador is grounded in fears about the strength of American influence.
Talha Ahsan, Gary McKinnon, Richard O’Dwyer and Babar Ahmad are sadly no strangers to the impact of that influence. Their cases have exposed the serious injustice and bias against UK citizens which is embedded in the US-UK Extradition Treaty.
These British citizens are all accused of serious crimes that are alleged to have been committed in this country, yet all now face extradition to the US.
Six months ago, the House of Commons passed a motion calling on the Government to urgently reform our deeply flawed extradition arrangements in order to strengthen the protection of UK citizens in this position.
In March, our hopes of change were raised further by the announcement by President Obama and the Prime Minister of a joint initiative to look into the operation of the Extradition Treaty.
Yet here we are, still waiting for action from the Government. At a meeting organised by John Hemming MP today, we will hear from the families of Talha, Richard, Gary and Babar about their campaigns for justice.
The aim is not, nor has it ever been, to pass judgement on the guilt or innocence of the men. It is to stand up for fairness and proper process.
This week I received a moving email from Babar’s father, who has worked tirelessly to support his son with the ‘We Are Babar Ahmad’ campaign.
He points out that in just over three weeks, Babar is due to be extradited to the US where he faces the prospect of being imprisoned for life in solitary confinement in a ‘Supermax’ prison.
Babar has been detained in the UK for seven years without charge or trial. He is fighting extradition under the Extradition Act 2003 which, incredibly, does not require the presentation of any prima facie evidence.
Since all of the allegations against him are said to have taken place in Britain, Babar’s father started an e-petition last year calling on the Government to put him on trial in the UK and support ‘British Justice for British Citizens’. It was signed by over 140,000 people.
Extraditing him to the US would means separation from his family, friends and legal representatives – seriously undermining his ability to mount a strong defence.
One of the most shocking facts about this case, as revealed in a letter from the CPS sent to Babar’s lawyer, is that the CPS had not even seen the bulk of the evidence before coming to its decision on whether he should be tried here. It was, in fact, shipped straight to the US.
This raises very serious questions about why evidence that should have been given to the CPS was not and why Babar wasn’t told. Who authorised this circumvention of the CPS apparently in deference to, and at the behest of, the US?
All of these cases pose a further question, of whether the UK government is content to consign its citizens to a fate of solitary confinement in “supermax” jails, potentially for life.
Given what we know about the conditions in these facilities, it is frankly baffling that the European Court ruled there would be no violation of human rights in such cases.
Cases like Babar’s, and that of Talha Ahsan – now entering his sixth year of imprisonment without trial – remind us that some of the worst consequences of the ‘War On Terror’ remain with us today.
If we’re to stop British justice from being outsourced to the US and prevent UK citizens from becoming pawns in diplomatic power games, the Government must now bring in the urgent legislation called for by Parliament to reform the asymmetric Extradition Treaty.