Human Rights group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) will shortly be contacting the governments of Britain, the USA, France, Germany, Turkey and Australia asking them to take action to eliminate long-term solitary confinement and isolation of prisoners.
The announcement comes days after Parliament debated Britain’s extradition arrangements, including the arrangements for evidence-free extradition to the USA, where prisoner isolation is commonplace.
Caroline Lucas MP (Green) said in the debate that Babar Ahmad – a British citizen wanted by the US on terrorism charges – would face a “life sentence without parole, in solitary confinement in a supermax prison” if convicted in the US.
Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and several other men have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights asking for their extradition to the US to be blocked. The court will not be taking account of the bizarre circumstances that have left Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan facing trial in the US for activities allegedly carried out in Britain – circumstances that Dominic Raab MP (Conservative) and Andy Slaughter MP (Labour) both described in Parliament last week as “Kafkaesque.” But it will be deciding whether extradition would violate Ahmad and Ahsan’s human rights because of the near-certainty that they would face long-term solitary confinement in the US.
The issue is controversial because the US Supreme Court has so far refused to rule that long-term solitary confinement violates the US Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” That means that the US Constitution appears not to provide safeguards that are widely thought to be provided by the European Convention on Human Rights. If the European Court of Human Rights finds that to be the case, it will be a serious embarrassment to the US Government. On the other hand, if the Court allows the extraditions to go ahead it could open the door to greater use of isolation in European prisons.
Caroline Lucas told MPs on Thursday that a decision is expected from the Court before the end of the year.
SACC believes that it is vital, whatever decision the Court reaches, to take steps to ensure that long term prisoner isolation is consigned to the dustbin of history.
SACC gave its support a year ago to an international statement saying that:
“enforced long-term isolation in all circumstances breaches Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'”
The statement, published online by the international StopIsolation initiative calls on the countries of the world to:
“enact legislation that prohibits long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibits the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment.”
Copies of the statement will be sent to the governments of the USA, France, Germany, Turkey and Australia to mark International Human Rights Day (10 December), and may in the months to come be sent to other governments too.
Supporters of the statement include US academic Noam Chomsky, US author and poet Alice Walker, former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, former prisoners Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon (wrongly convicted over IRA bombings in England), former Beirut hostage Terry Waite, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, barrister Michael Mansfield QC, Emeritus Professor David Brown (University of New South Wales, Australia), US prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, former United Nations Special Rapporteur against Torture Theo van Boven, and Secretary General of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights Thomas Schmidt.
Richard Haley, Chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said:
“British police and British courts are trying to send British citizens to be tried in the US for offences allegedly committed on British soil. If the men are convicted in the US, they will serve their sentences under conditions that would be utterly unacceptable in a British jail. I hope the European Court of Human Rights will say that isn’t on.
“But these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands of prisoners are enduring the bleak awfulness of isolation in US Federal and State prisons, and many more people are suffering the same fate elsewhere in the world. That’s why we are asking the world’s governments to introduce domestic legislation that unequivocally bans prisoner isolation.
“A decision by the European Court of Human Rights to allow the extradition of people at risk of solitary confinement and isolation would be a human rights catastrophe for Europe. It would open the door to the nightmare of US-style imprisonment here. If that’s what the Court decides, people in Europe will need to pull out all the stops to obtain laws that give us the protection we believed we already had.
“Anyone can see that locking someone up for months or years without meaningful human contact is a fiendishly cruel thing to do. Isolation and solitary confinement must stop.”
Notes for Editors
- StopIsolation is an independent initiative by members of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), supported by SACC, the Campaign against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, the Justice for Aafia Coalition and the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.
- For the full text of the statement calling for an end to prisoner isolation and a list of supporters, see www.stopisolation.org
- Over 140,000 people signed an e-petition created by Babar Ahmad’s father calling for Babar Ahmad to be prosecuted in the UK. Under a recent policy of the Coalition Government, a petition gaining more than 100,000 signatures is eligible for debate in the House of Commons. The Parliamentary Backbench Business Committee has so far refused to list this issue for a full debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons.
- Extradition, including Babar Ahmad’s case, was debated by MPs on Thursday 24 November. The debate was held in Westminster Hall, rather than in the main chamber of the House of Commons, and therefore did not involve a vote. Many MPs expressed the view that the issue should be the subject of a full Commons debate with a vote. The transcript of the debate can be viewed at theyworkforyou.com
- Under the terms of Extradition Act 2003, people can be extradited from Britain to the US without any requirement for prima facie evidence to be produced. Britain’s extradition arrangements were the subject of a review by Sir Scott Baker, published on 18 October 2011. The review gave broad backing to the current arrangements. It drew strong criticism from human rights campaigners, including Liberty, a long-established and widely respected British civil liberties group (previously known as the National Council for Civil Liberties).
- For more information about Babar Ahmad, see freebabarahmad.com. Babar Ahmad is being held in a high-security jail in Britain while he fights the US extradition request. He has not been charged with any offence in Britain. He is now in his eighth year of imprisonment.
- Talha Ahsan is wanted by the US on charges related to those that Babar Ahmad is facing. He has not been charged with any offence in Britain but is now in his sixth year of imprisonment.
- Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) is a Scottish-based human rights group that campaigns for the repeal of Britain’s terrorism. More information at www.sacc.org.uk