The family of Babar Ahmad were not allowed to see their son before he was deported from Britain on October 5 after being held in jail for more than eight years without charge, while fighting extradition to the US.
“Now we have lost all contact. We do not know how he is being kept, what conditions. They did not even allow us to say goodbye,” his father Ashfaq Ahmad told The Muslim News.
“I am an old man. I hope I can visit him soon. I do not know now if I will live to see the day he comes home,” 77-year old Ahmad said. Babar is currently held in solitary confinement in the US and faces the prospect of at least another year in jail with a trial tentatively set for October 2013.
He was extradited with four other Muslims, including Syed Talha Ahsan, less than 24 hours after the High Court in London rejected a final appeal against extradition under Britain’s notorious 2003 treaty with the US. It came after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, refused to allow a private prosecution in the UK due to a lack of evidence against Babar, who has never been charged with any offence in Britain. Alleged evidence was collected in the UK by the Metropolitan Police but was handed to the US without being seen by the British authorities.
“The court was just a drama as the decision had been already made. I think it is a bit like ‘match-fixing’ – the result was already decided before the courtroom drama began. They had already decided to send my son. The British Government sent him and they now have a duty to make sure he is OK, he is able to contact us and he is not forgotten,” his father said.
His sister Amna went with his mother to visit her brother on his last day in the UK but was told by prison authorities that they could not see him. She said he was sent like a “piece of cargo” and that “no family ever again should ever have to endure this unjust Treaty” with the US. “The day Babar was sent, with him went the last drop of confidence and trust the British people had in their judicial and political system,” she told The Muslim News.
Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan have been held in British prisons, without charge, for 8 and 6 years respectively. They are accused by the American authorities of participating in terrorist-related activities but have been campaigning for the right and have been fighting an extradition warrant as they believe that they should have the right to stand trial in a British court, as British citizens alleged to have committed crimes whilst in the UK.
The family of Babar welcome the decision by Home Secretary, Theresa May, to block the extradition of Gary McKinnon on human rights grounds, saying they would not want his relatives to “experience the pain and suffering we have all been enduring” since their son was extradited. But they accused the UK Government of appearing to “be blatant old-fashioned racism under which all British citizens are equal but some are more equal than others.”
“Questions do need to be asked as to why within the space of two weeks, a British citizen with Asperger’s Syndrome accused of computer related activity is not extradited, while two other British citizens, one with Asperger’s Syndrome (Ahsan), engaged in computer related activity are extradited. A clear demonstration of double standards,” they said in a statement.
“That Theresa May felt compelled to postpone both the McKinnon decision on several occasions and the introduction of the forum bar (which would have prevented Babar’s extradition) demonstrates her willingness to make vulnerable individuals like Gary suffer in her determination to extradite others,” the statement said.
May justified her decision to deport Ahsan by saying his case “was considered at length by UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that extradition to the US would not breach his human rights.”
In 2006, amendments were made to the Act that would introduce a vital safeguard. The ‘forum bar’, which gives UK courts the discretion to stop extradition if the alleged criminal conduct occurred in Britain, was introduced as a virtual safeguard to the 2003 Extradition Act. But provisions, which include allowing judges to halt extraditions, have never been activated until the decision to block McKinnon’s extradition.
Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who has campaigned for justice for his two constituents, Babar and Talha, but feared the worst by the extraditions. “The way criminal cases work in America means that Defendants facing a trial are advised to plea bargain. I predict that both my constituents will do the same as all the other British men extradited to the USA have done, and plead guilty,” Khan said.
“It is a big risk pleading ‘Not Guilty’. My understanding is that the consequences of this include the threat of life in solitary confinement without parole, should they lose a trial. If those are the stakes which pleading ‘Not Guilty’ involve then it is no wonder that over 97% of defendants accept a plea bargain – regardless of how confident or determined they are to stand trial.”
Commenting on the McKinnon case, he said that May’s decision has caused confusion coming 10 days after Babar and Ahsan were extradited. “The Government is using the Human Rights Act to prevent the extradition of Gary McKinnon on health grounds, but Syed Talha Ahsan also suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome… The appearance of double standards by the Home Secretary does not engender confidence in the justice system.”
The campaign for justice for Babar has included an e-petition lobbying for a British trial was signed by more than 150,000 people. Last year, MPs also debated the UK’s extradition arrangements with the US, calling for reforms to offer better protection to British citizens. Amongst others, lawyers and human rights’ groups have expressed their grave concern about the 2003 Treaty, which was not approved by Parliament and received little scrutiny