by Fahad Ansari (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1430)
In April, the “Easter Attack” plot became the latest in a series of international terrorist plots, “foiled” by British police days before they were supposedly to be carried out. In line with other terrorist plots allegedly being hatched in Britain only to be uncovered by anti-terror police, the Easter Attack plot involved both foreign and British nationals conspiring, we were told, to set off a chain of bombs at various public locations, designed to explode at times when these places were packed with civilians in order to maximize casualties.
It involved dramatic Hollywood style raids involving hundreds of armed police officers, with suspects being thrown down to the floor and arrested in full view of the public and numerous homes and properties being thoroughly searched. Like previously thwarted plots, it involved sensational media coverage deliberately calculated to stoke panic and xenophobia among a population already terrified by the politics of fear callously being played by the government, whose premature and hyperbolic statements only serve to legitimize such views. Like every other terrorist plot successfully “exposed” over the last eight years, the alleged terrorists are all Muslims. And like the majority of instances in which anti-terror police have apparently saved the lives of thousands of people, no evidence of any plot has actually emerged, the terrorists have been released without charge, and no apology has been forthcoming.
On April 8, a series of high profile raids took place in the North West of England in which 12 Pakistani students (one British born) were arrested in very dramatic circumstances. At a time when the British police were coming under increasing public pressure for their brutality during the G20 demonstrations and the connected death of Ian Tomlinson, this incident served to detract attention temporarily and remind the people of the grave threat facing this country from which the British police were protecting them. Suddenly, the police were he-roes of the hour again; we were told to stop bickering about trivial issues such as police brutality and the death of an innocent man but to focus on the bigger picture — the Islamic threat. The next day, despite very little news emerging about the investigation, the lives and reputations of these 12 men had been destroyed. No less than the prime minister himself stated that the police had foiled a “very big” terrorist plot as he arrogantly called upon the Pakistani government to do more to root out terrorism. Dozens of properties were searched and items examined over the next 13 days.
After three days, the first of these 12 men, an 18-year-old Pakistani student, was released without charge. On April 21, another nine men joined him with the final two suspects being released without charge the following day, a full two weeks after being arrested. The police did not even possess enough evidence to hold any of the men for the maximum 28 days permitted under the Terrorism Act. Like the nine Algerian men arrested for the Ricin plot, like the ten Iraqi Kurds arrested for allegedly planning to blow up Manchester United’s home ground, and like Hisham Yezza, the University of Nottingham professor arrested for downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from the US Department of Defence website as part of his research, the Pakistani-12 are completely innocent. Even the Chief Constable of Manchester Police said as much after their release, although he refused to apologize for the raids, “These people are innocent and they walk away ... there are constant threats to this country but we totally respect the situation, we respect that they are innocent until proven guilty.”
Yet they have not been allowed to walk away. Within minutes of being released, all of the men, except the British national, were re-arrested under immigration legislation and told that they were being deported from the UK on grounds of national security. The first man who was released has already been deported. The remaining ten have been given Category A prisoner status, reserved for the most dangerous criminals, and continue to be detained in maximum security prisons in different parts of the country. They are not allowed to receive any visitors apart from their lawyers. They cannot phone anybody, including their families, who have not spoken to them since the raids took place on April 8. They have been prohibited from continuing their education while in prison and from taking their final exams, the only reason they came to the UK. The fact that they are being deported on national security grounds is evidence in itself that there is no question arising as to the legality of their visas, something which is repeatedly insinuated by the media and politicians alike, in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Although the Manchester College of Professional Studies, which many of the men attended, has since been exposed as one of thousands of “sham colleges” in the UK, this does not detract from the legality of the men’s own immigration status, nor does it justify tarnishing their reputations by falsely labeling them as international terrorists.
The Pakistani Ten’s application for bail was dismissed by the Special Immigrations Appeal Commission (SIAC) on May 12 when the Home Office insisted that they were “members of a UK-based network linked to Al-Qaeda”. The Home Office convinced the tribunal that there was a “high risk that they would re-engage in their former activities” if they were released. Persuading a SIAC judge that a foreign terror suspect is guilty of an offence is not all that challenging. For in this Kafkaesque system designed to deal only with immigration issues involving national security, suspects are not allowed see the evidence against them or be informed of what they are alleged to have done. Secret evidence is shown to the judge alone with the suspects and their legal representatives being asked to leave the courtroom during this time. Witnesses speak from behind a screen and to avoid answering a question merely have to respond that they will respond in a “closed evidence session” at which the suspect and his lawyers will not be present. It is at the mercy of such a court that the Pakistani Ten are held whose next appeal hearing will be on July 27.
Deportation has now become a favorite tool of the British government to conceal its errors from raids carried out on questionable intelligence. Recent Home Office statistics show that of 1471 people arrested under anti-terrorism powers between September 11, 2001 and March 31, 2009, two thirds have been released without charge and only 14 % of those arrested were convicted. The figures do not clarify the specific offence and includes those convicted for possessing explosives, wearing a symbol of a proscribed group, and fundraising through credit card fraud. In total, 131 of those released without charge were deported. This figure does not include the numerous foreign suspects who remain either in prison or under control orders because the UK is unable to deport them due to an international law which prohibits the return of individuals to countries where they face a real risk of torture and ill-treatment. Yet the question arises if these individuals are such a threat to the country, surely there must be some offence to charge them with amongst the plethora of draconian anti-terror laws the UK possess.
The reality is that this is the government’s method of hiding its blunders and burying the bad news. They are just a bunch of foreign Muslims whose ultimate fate is of little consequence to the government. These men risk brutal torture upon return to their home countries where they will arrive with a cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads, their lives and those of their families devastated by these intelligence blunders.The Pakistani government has sent mixed signals about how it perceives the situation, reflecting its own confusion and incompetence about how to protect the rights of its citizens. Initially adopting a defensive stance against Prime Minister Brown’s accusations, rather than defending the presumption of innocence, it counter-accused the UK of not adequately controlling its borders. The High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, and other Consul-Generals in the UK, have visited the men in prison and offered them support, yet the Deputy High–Commissioner Asif Durrani implied to Dawn newspaper that the men would be tortured upon return if deported, “The British government had asked us for guarantees that they would not be tortured if deported to Pakistan but we told them that no such guarantees could be given because if the students were deported on national security grounds, they would have to be investigated in Pakistan as well.”
It is precisely because of such ridiculous comments that Pakistan has lost any semblance of respect in the international community to the extent that when the High Commissioner visited the men in Belmarsh prison on April 28, he was subjected to the routine treatment given to all visitors. This includes being photographed, fingerprinted, physically searched, dog-searched and asked to remove his belt, shoes and jacket. Such treatment is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and customary diplomatic norms. British diplomats who visit British prisoners in Pakistani jails could never imagine themselves being subjected to similar treatment.
Whether they are finally released in the UK or deported to Pakistan, the lives of these men and their families have been ruined. Britain should worry about its own society and what it has become. It has deteriorated into a state in which xenophobia and Islamophobia are rampant and widespread and legitimized by the mass media and the government. With the rise of Far Right parties like the British National Party, mainstream political parties have sought to implement their own racist measures and policies in an attempt to reclaim votes and in doing so have become a diluted version of what they claim to be antithetical to. In the short term, this may win them some votes but in the long term, Britain will collapse as a result of the injustices which have become central to their domestic and foreign policies. Nations prosper only so long as they implement justice but when tyranny is the rule of law, destruction is sure to follow in short order.