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SACC calls for the release of Moazzam Begg

Moazzam Begg

Press Release from SACC

SACC calls for the immediate release of Moazzam Begg and the three other people arrested in the West Midlands on Tuesday, supposedly on suspicion of facilitating terrorism overseas. It is perfectly clear that these arrests are intended to frighten Britain's Muslims away from pursuing objectives that are at odds with government policy.

Former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg is respected around the world as both a torture survivor and a human rights defender. His arrest brings further discredit on a British government already established as an institutional apologist for torture.

The arrest of a political activist, whatever the charges, is apt to provoke suspicions of a political motive. But terrorism arrests are different. Politics are hard-wired into Britain's terrorism laws. Through the involvement of MI5, state interests are built into the decision-making that leads to an arrest. So there is no question but that political concerns play a part in every pre-planned terrorism arrest.

Moazzam Begg is Outreach Director of human rights group CAGE (formerly Cage Prisoners). CAGE says that the arrests coincide with a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece.

The day before he was arrested, Moazzam Begg tweeted "Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse."

Last December the authorities took away Moazzam Begg's passport, claiming "royal prerogative" as the legal basis for their action. Before that, he was regularly subjected to "Stop and Question" sessions under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 when he travelled overseas. In November, police questioning had caused him to miss a flight to Turkey, where he was due to attend a conference on human rights abuses in Egypt.

This kind of obstruction and harassment is the traditional lot of human rights defenders who work in undemocratic countries. It is happening in Britain.

After his passport was confiscated, Moazzam Begg wrote:

"I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed - something that began long before any visit to Syria - is because CagePrisoners and I are at the forefront of investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture."

Moazzam Begg's arrest, besides falling into a pattern of government obstruction of any attempt to hold it accountable for torture, is also part of a pattern of intimidation directed against Muslims thought to be sympathetic towards the Syrian revolution. Humanitarian aid convoys heading for Syria are stopped; vehicles, money and goods are confiscated.

Intimidation of this sort became commonplace after the British and US governments abandoned their plans to attack the Assad regime last September. It was just a part of the subsequent adjustment of British policy in the region. As on many occasions before, British policy is multi-faceted, tactically changeable and directed towards the promotion of British elite interests in the Middle East through a policy of divide and rule. Also as on many occasions before, British domestic law is being used as an instrument of foreign policy.

That is not a proper foundation for the rule of law. And it is why we continue to campaign for the repeal of Britain's unjust and politicised terrorism laws. People should be charged under real law, or not at all.

SACC was, and remains, opposed to US-British military intervention in Syria. British bombs will not serve the interests of the Syrian people, or of regional peace. But we are opposed to tyranny, including the tyranny of the Assad regime, and we recognise the right of oppressed people to resist tyranny.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"We campaigned for Moazzam Begg's release when he was held in Guantánamo Bay. At that time we knew hardly anything about him. We supported him simply because we could see that he was the victim of an abuse of power. We see the same thing today. But this time we know him quite well, because we have campaigned alongside him for years.

"We know that he is a brave man of the utmost integrity. We know that he is a builder of bridges between people. We know that he is a man of deep religious faith. We know that, through all the complexities of British and foreign politics, he always holds fast to a fundamental regard for human rights. We know that he has given us his support whenever we have asked for it.

"His arrest was political. His release can also be secured by a political decision. We call on the government and the police to ensure that he is released immediately and that his persecution stops."