Since 2003, under British extradition law, you can be arrested by the British Police subject to a US extradition warrant, not told why and put into prison for years on end without charge or trial. London’s Evening Standard newspaper last week reported that home secretary Theresa May, is preparing to reject reviews of this unjust legislature on the grounds that ‘concerns about flaws are misplaced’ and that changing it would have very little effect.
British lawyers and grass-roots campaigners have been exercising their democratic right to protest about this legislation, yet the government has been slow to respond.
The issue was put under the spotlight recently when over 140,000 people signed a petition calling for Babar Ahmad, a British Muslim who has been imprisoned without charge or trial for eight years, to be allowed a court case. This led to a House of Commons forum on the wider issue of extradition. Many cases of abuse under this legislation were discussed and the overwhelming majority of members of parliament spoke out in favour of changes to the current extradition treaty. Whilst the legislature was put in place to deal with suspected terrorists, not only have people accused of other crimes been subjected to it, but guilt is not established before defendants are shipped off to the United States.
Other such cases include that of Talha Ahsan and Gary Mackinnon who both suffer from forms of Autism and who are awaiting extradition to the US, despite concerns that extradition will jeopardise a fair trial due to their mental health.
Defendants sent across to America may face detention in super-max prisons, where they are kept in solitary confinement for 23 out of 24 hours in the day, are kept under constant surveillance in rooms with metal or concrete furniture and have limited time in which to exercise. Pre-trial detention can be lengthy and at best affect defendants mood and motivation. At worst, these conditions have been described as ‘torture under international law’ by a New York Bar association study.
Following the house of commons debate on 5th December, the British government has fallen silent and Babar Ahmad’s case has remained low profile. It is up to defenders of justice and freedom, to prevent this issue from being sidelined and maintain pressure on the government to respond as a civilised democracy should.
If government wants its citizens to believe in the power of democracy it needs to respond quickly and fairly and end the suffering of many caught in this unjust legal web. Every day that the accused languish in prisons without trial adds further to the shame that those in power must be made to feel.