Yesterday’s ruling by the Appeals Court which rejected the Home Secretary, Theresa May’s, latest attempt to deport the Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada, restores some hope in our criminal justice system.
Theresa May – like many Home Secretary’s – has long concluded that there are votes to be gained by appealing to baser prejudices and being seen to be really tough on darkies especially ones with long beards and to hell with the law. In recent weeks, May has taken to publicly lambasting the judges for repeatedly frustrating her attempts to deport the bearded ones and warning that she intends to repeal the Human Rights Act (because bearded Muslims are not really human, don’t you know).
Abu Qatada’s treatment at the hands of both Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition is instructive. He has been living in the UK since 1994. I wrote this about him over four years ago:
“…[Abu Qatada] went on the run just as the UK government was about to announce new anti-terror laws allowing foreign nationals to be detained without trial or charge [following the events of 9/11]. He was finally captured in October 2002.
“He then spent around six years behind bars without being charged with any actual crime by our government. After the July 7 bombings and Blair’s menacing declaration that “the rules of the game” had changed, the government agreed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Jordan as it sought to deport Abu Qatada to that country where he had been convicted in absentia of terror-related charges.
“The Home Office has claimed that Abu Qatada is a “truly dangerous individual” and “heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaida”.
“That may or may not be true, but surely the place to establish that is in our courts of law. The man has been living in this country with his family for the past 15 years. Surely that is a long enough period to collate any evidence and bring it before a judge and jury. Instead, our government has been busy trying to deport him back to Jordan.
“Unfortunately, in the fevered atmosphere of today, seeing someone simply being accused of terrorist-related activity is enough to make otherwise sane people lose their senses, automatically assume the worst and forget about due process and the rule of law.”
So, Abu Qatada has now spent around ten years in prison without having been charged with any crime in the UK, let alone having been convicted of one. Can you imagine a middle class white person being treated the same way in the UK? And is it really possible to imagine the terrible toll on his family and children due to the UK government’s vindictive and Islamophobic behaviour?
And then think about what the families of Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan must be going through as a result of the Home Office’s decision to sign the woefully one-sided extradition treaty with the USA back in 2002.
The Home Office – whose remit covers law and order – has the most authoritarian reputation of any government department.
To recount a tale I promised in my previous blog post, a few years ago I was visited at work in Docklands by two pretty young ladies from the Home Office. They had been dispatched by a senior civil servant in Whitehall to ask for my assistance to close down some Muslim websites which they believed were serving to radicalise Muslim youth. Their proposal boiled down to me leading a campaign to put pressure – in the name of British Muslims – on Internet Service Providers to remove content which the Home Office believed was harmful. As an incentive, they said the Home Office was planning to convene a one-day conference later that year about ‘hate material on the internet’ and if I agreed to help, I would be invited to chair the conference. I asked the two pretty young things if the internet material was actually unlawful? After all, the government already has laws at its disposal to prosecute those hosting unlawful material. No, they said, the material was not unlawful. So, the material was lawful. I looked at the pretty young things. They looked at me. I fluttered my eyelashes at them. That last bit was a joke, by the way.
Anyway, I politely declined the offer from the pretty young things and saw them out of my work premises. As they left they waved. I fluttered my eyelashes at them again.