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Babar Ahmad, Extradition and the Rights of British Citizens

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The Babar Ahmad case is generating serious concern in the UK - over 110,000 people have now signed a petition demanding this detainee-without-charge is tried in the UK, not the USA. It is also focusing a harsh light upon unfair and unbalanced aspects of a controversial piece of British legislation called the 'Extradition Act 2003'.

The campaign to put Babar Ahmad on trial in the UK is gathering pace, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition to that effect. Ahmad is a 37-year-old British Muslim citizen who has been held for seven years without charge here in the UK, pending extradition to the USA. The campaign is also focusing attention upon the one-sided '2003 US-UK Extradition Treaty', part of the Extradition Act 2003.

In December 2003 Babar Ahmad was arrested at his London home under anti-terror legislation. By the time he reached the police station Ahmad had sustained over 73 forensically-recorded injuries, including bleeding in his ears and urine. Six days later he was released without charge.

In August 2004 Ahmad was re-arrested in London and imprisoned pending an extradition request from the US under the controversial, no-evidence-required, Extradition Act 2003. The US has alleged that in the 1990s Babar was a supporter of "terrorism", which Ahmad denies.

Babar Ahmad is now the longest-serving British detainee-without-charge. In March 2009 the Metropolitan Police finally admitted in the Royal Courts of Justice in London that they did indeed carry out the assault on him during his first arrest in 2003. While they paid him £60,000 compensation, the Met did not offer an apology for the actions of its officers.

Things got more complex. Ahmad's conversation with his local MP and Britain's only Muslim Privvy Councillor, Shadow Justice SecretarySadiq Khan was reportedly monitored by the Police during prison visits. The police officers who were accused of assault were later acquitted. Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC, the Recorder of Westminster and Deputy High Court Judge, expressed hope that Ahmad's 'ordeal' would come to an end' as quickly as possible. His family has made a direct plea to the Prime Minister to "back the British justice system and support British trials for British citizens".

In its Press Release on Babar issue, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has urged all British citizens to sign the petition calling for Ahmad to be put on trial here. The Secretary General, Farooq Murad, insisted: "The British government has a responsibility to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected while at the same time ensuring justice is served."

Adding to these voices is Sadiq Khan MP, saying: "As Babar's Member of Parliament, I have worked with his family and legal team for a number of years arguing that any trial should be held in the UK." He pleaded with our current Coalition government to intervene (as he did with the Labour government before).

Problems with the law

It is not so much Babar Ahmad's guilt or innocence as his right to a trial within the UK that is at question: something the current US-UK treaty does not seem to permit. Ahmad's extradition looks likely to proceed unless the British government intervenes. This touches upon the very heart and fair notion of British justice and our ability to stand up against an 'unbalanced' relationship with the US.

A report released by the House of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on 22 June this year urged the UK government to change the law so that Ahmad's perpetual threat of extradition could be ended without further delay.

The 'Extradition Act 2003' has been inviting controversy from day one (it came into force on 1 January 2004). It allows the US to extradite UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK. There is no reciprocal right to extradition from the US to the UK; and there are issues about the levels of proof required.

Among other provisions, Part 2 of the Act: Extradition to category 2 territories (non-European Arrest warrant territories) removed the requirement of the USA to provide prima facie evidence in extraditions from the UK. They are only required to show 'reasonable suspicion'. UK citizens also lose their entitlement to legal aid once they are extradited to US jurisdiction: costs are largely met by the defendant's private means.

After the High Court's determination that Babar Ahmad could be extradited to the USA to face terror-related charges, the civil rights group, Liberty, in its Extradition Act 2003 undermines fundamental rights press release on 30 November 2006 said: "The Extradition Act 2003 undermines longstanding safeguards against unfair removal and unfortunately appears to be more about politics than law."

Not least, the UN Declaration on Human Rights, Article 10 notes that 'Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.' That seems unlikely in Babar Ahmad's case.

There are other high profile cases involving this flawed extradition law, such as Gary McKinnon: in 2009 the Conservative Party tabled a vote on his case, calling for reform to show just how flawed the US-UK extradition treaty has become.

The government has now initiated a review of this 'unbalanced' treaty. My hope is that it takes a lead in defending all its citizens, as the Conservative Party did for McKinnon when it was in Opposition. The alleged crimes may be different but the issues remain the same. And at a time when Muslims are increasingly entering 'mainstream' life in this country - in business, in political engagement, even commemorating Remembrance Sunday - it is sad to note that the decision to extradite Babar Ahmad puts a strain on those growing ties.

It is time we got rid of this uneven extradition treaty and placed trust in our own justice system.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). He is a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust, and former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).