The lead news in the UK has been the interview with Babar Ahmad – the UK’s longest serving prisoner who has not been charged, tried or even allowed to see the evidence against him. He has been in prison for over 7 years – in a maximum-security wing at HMP Long Lartin, in a case described as ‘Kafkaesque’.
I sincerely pray Mr Ahmad is released without any charge. From what I understand, he is being accused of promoting the cause of Chechen Mujahideen, via a website, at a time when this was seen as a legitimate struggle against brutal Russian repression – not unlike the struggle of those who were recently praised in the British media for bravely leaving the comfort of the UK to help fight to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Until this evening I felt the argument against extradition to put Babar on trial in the UK seemed a little odd.
But Babar Ahmad’s gently spoken challenge to the British legal system on television tonight was a devastating indictment of the system. How humiliating for Britain’s justice system that he has to politely ask for what they should have done anyway!
By saying ‘please end my nightmare by putting me on trial in the UK’ he is exposing the systemic failure that has robbed him of his life. Either the evidence to prosecute him in the UK is available and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has left him to rot for 8 years for no good reason or there is insufficient evidence to launch a realistic prosecution against this man, and therefore the injustice against him is even greater.
The coverage of his story overlooked the fact that the Metropolitan police paid him £60 000 compensation for a brutal assault he suffered whilst in their custody. No one has been convicted for the assault.
But the contribution from a so-called ‘terror-expert’ Evan Kohlmann – who may be called as a witness in any eventual trial Ahmad faces in the US – summarized much of the problem with the discussion on this and other ‘terrorism’ related cases.
Kohlmann had the gall to argue that the US constitution was ‘generous’ to those defending themselves against prosecution. Maybe, if you are a US soldier accused of murdering civilians in Haditha in Iraq. But try telling that to Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani Neuroscientist abducted in Karachi, held in Bagram in secret for years, and sentenced in the USA to 86 years imprisonment for allegedly trying to murder US troops (during the alleged attack in which she was unarmed, she was the only person who was shot and injured!).
The way Kohlmann argued against Ahmad’s case – and the way in which Ahmad has been portrayed in much of the media – totally overlooks the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. It is not a principle that is applied to ‘terrorist suspects’: for once that label is attached to a person the word ‘suspect’ becomes invisible for most people – judges, juries and the executioners in the media lose all sense of objectivity.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask where are the campaigners who shouted so loud for the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the case of Babar Ahmad?
In the Quran, Allah tells us that we should stand for justice even if it is against ourselves. And the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to punish an innocent man.
That is a standard of justice needed in the world today – justice that is divorced from politics and from prejudice.
Yet instead, we have a standard in Britain that talks about Magna Carta, but actually punishes people by the legal process – by incarcerating an innocent man [until you prove him guilty, remember] who was accused of running a website [however ‘extremist’ they say it was, that was what he was supposed to have done]; separating him from his family; beating and humiliating him during arrest; and where the government tries to cover things up by attempting to block the transmission of his interview.
And we have the blind assumption in some parts of the world that this is a system that delivers justice and the rule of law.
But whatever next week’s judgment from Strasburg about his extradition, the fact the system has punished Babar Ahmad in this way means the British government will find it harder to lecture China, Zimbabwe or Burma about their practices when their own prisons contain what are, in effect, victims of their own legal process.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at email@example.com