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Strasbourg ruling is "a stunning setback for international human rights law"

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Tuesday 25 September 2012

Monday's decision by the European Court of Human Rights not to allow the appeal of Babar Ahmad and others against their extradition to be heard by its Grand Chamber is a stunning setback for international human rights law. The five appellants - all suspected of "terrorism" offences - are virtually certain to be convicted if extradited to the US, since US courts don't acquit people charged with terrorism. They are then virtually certain to spend years in solitary confinement, in violation of every principle of humanity and decency.

The Strasbourg court's bizarre decision is the outcome of immense and completely improper pressure brought to bear by the British government. It has been clearly understood by everyone for most of the last year that if the court failed to deliver the verdict required by the British government, the government would do its utmost to use the court's ongoing reform process to break its power. The court will now survive to all appearances unscathed, but with its credibility badly undermined. Today's decision means that, at least in extradition cases, the hitherto eccentric US interpretation of human rights law will displace European values in Strasbourg case-law.

There is now an urgent need for the British Parliament to re-assert our own values by enacting domestic legislation to prohibit long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment. International human rights experts have been calling for some time for such a move, and it should now be delayed no longer. Long-term solitary confinement is cruel and inhuman and should be recognised as a violation of Article 5 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Amongst the people now threatened with imminent extradition is Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian lawyer and human rights defender who came to Britain as a refugee and is now wanted by the US to face terrorism charges founded on worryingly thin evidence. Another of the unsuccessful appellants is the radical scholar and preacher Abu Hamza. The charges against him could as easily be heard in Britain as in the US. It appears to SACC that he is facing extradition simply because the British and US authorities are dissatisfied with the sentences set out by Parliament and handed down by a British court when Abu Hamza was convicted of a variety of offences in 2006.

Two of the appellants, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, are facing extradtion to the US to be tried for offences allegedly committed in Britain on the basis of evidence gathered in Britain by the Metropolitan Police. The Strasbourg decision doesn't change the fact that a British court is the proper place for this evidence to be heard.

The Crown Prosecution Service has so far declined to bring charges. However, British businessman Karl Watkin has recently commenced his own private prosecution of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a move which Babar Ahmad's family say they support. The CPS is now in possession of all the material which forms the basis of the US indictment. This material was not at first available to the CPS, having apparently been sent straight to the US by the Metropolitan Police. In these circumstances any attempt to extradite Ahmad and Ahsan would be an outrage against justice and an affront to the British public, who are entitled to see the facts of the case set out before a British court.

There is even more at stake than the hellish injustice threatening these men.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"It looks as if the investigation of Babar Ahmad was run from the beginning by the US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. It looks as the Metropolitan Police were simply acting as the FBI's errand boys in Britain. It looks as if MI5, who are known to have planted a bug in Ahmad's home, were also working on behalf of the US authorities. And it looks as if prosecution in Britain was never seriously on the agenda. All this was happening just a couple of years after Tony Blair's government had given the go-ahead to the US to render British citizens kidnapped in Pakistan and Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay.

"It looks as if anti-terrorism law-enforcement in Britain, as well as overseas, was being surrendered to the US. Was all this just a private arrangement between the Met, MI5 and the FBI, or did government ministers know about it? We need answers to these questions. But first, we need to see the evidence against Ahmad and Ahsan tested in a British court."

Notes for Editors

Public figures, intellectuals, former prisoners and human rights activists issued a statement on 10 December 2010 calling for an international ban on long-term solitary confinement and prisoner isolation. See