The pending extradition of British citizens Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan to the US, accused of terrorism related offences based on undisclosed evidence, may have an unquantifiable impact on British Muslims’ trust of their government and its perceived ability to look after their interests.
Babar Ahmad was arrested in London in August 2004 and Talha Ahsan (suffering from Asperger’s syndrome) in July 2006, following an extradition request from the US. Both men were accused of running a Jihadist website. Ahmad and Ahsan have since remained in prison in the UK fighting extradition, making Babar Ahmad the longest serving prisoner to be held in Britain without charge. On 10th April 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the pair were unlikely to face ‘degrading or inhumane treatment’ in the US, paving the way for their extradition.
The lopsided treaty:
Britain’s extradition treaty to the US is infamously lopsided. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has raised concerns about the uneven application of the treaty, saying it is ‘easier to extradite a British Citizen to the USA than vice versa’. Extradition to the UK is based on ‘probable cause’. However, extradition to the US is based on ‘reasonable suspicion’; beyond this the US is not required to present ‘prima facie’ evidence to UK authorities for an extradition request. Under such arrangements, nine times as many UK citizens have been extradited to the US than vice-versa.
Any citizen, Muslim or not, can and has been opaquely accused without much recourse to UK justice.
Negative effects on national cohesion of the extradition treaty:
Crucial to domestic integration, tackling non-violent extremism and combating terrorism is gaining the support and trust of Muslim communities in the UK. Currently, there is justifiable outrage that British citizens, accused of committing their offences in the UK, are not to be tried under UK law. Though the controversial extradition cases of Gary McKinnon (also suffering from Asperger’s syndrome and fighting extradition for 10 years), Richard O’Dwyer and Eileen Clark highlight that this is not merely a Muslim problem, the fact remains that in the ashes of the ‘War on Terror’ the extradition of Ahmed and Ahsan will be seized upon by Islamist extremists to further increase the void between Muslim communities and their government, especially since the law was introduced under such a guise.
Maajid Nawaz, Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam, said:
‘The Islamist narrative holds that the West is at war against Islam and Muslims and that values of human rights and the ‘rule of law’ do not apply to Muslims. Detention without charge, Extraordinary Rendition, torture, targeted executions, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are used time and again as evidence to bolster this narrative. Undermining that narrative is key to limiting the appeal of extremism. This is why it is so crucial to be seen to be acting fairly and transparently. Without the cooperation and trust of Britain’s Muslims the government’s task of isolating extremists from their communities is made much harder.’
Dr Usama Hasan, Quilliam Senior Researcher (Islamic Studies), said:
‘The fact that no evidence was required to extradite these two highlights the underlying problem with the treaty. If this evidence was believed to be insufficient to try the defendants in the UK, as was deemed by the Crown Prosecution Service in July 2004 and December 2006, and by the UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in September 2006, it should thus be insufficient to extradite them to the US’.
Both Prime Minister Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Clegg have been critical of the US-UK Treaty and the Extradition Act while in opposition. If crimes are said to have been committed in the UK, a British judge should be able to bar extradition if it would be in the interests of justice to do so, this is called the ‘forum’ rule. The Deputy Prime Minister has hinted that he may reject an official study by Sir Scott Baker that rather oddly concluded the treaty is fair, by subsequently requesting that Sir Menzies Campbell lead a Liberal Democrat party review of extradition arrangements.
Quilliam calls for an immediate halt to all extraditions under this treaty pending urgent domestic law reform in order to introduce the ‘forum’ rule. A 2010 ComRes poll of MPs commissioned by rights group Liberty found that 83% of those surveyed agreed or agreed strongly that the forum rule should be introduced. 66% of those polled also agreed or agreed strongly that extradition should only occur if the requesting country first provides evidence in a UK court. Any such urgent reform measure is unlikely to meet major resistance from any party, and allows the coalition government an easy victory in demonstrating that it stands for fairness and British justice.
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