Abu Qatada is a big man with an even bigger voice. The British legal system and sundry international institutions are keen to protect his human rights. This concern for his welfare owes more to his fame and his potential to cause embarrassment than to the facts of his legal case.
At any given moment there are hundreds, if not thousands, of brave political dissidents who have sought refuge in the UK, yet they live in fear that they will be deported. The fate of their less fortunate friends who have already been deported convinces them they will be tortured and possibly killed by the repressive regimes they have risked their lives to challenge.
In many cases they have sacrificed their careers and their security to fight for the values they associate with Britain: tolerance, pluralism, secularism, impartial justice, the separation of powers, a free media and multi-party democracy. In other words, many vilified 'asylum seekers' have taken a courageous stand for the things Abu Qatada holds in contempt.
Yet, they do not have the notorious cleric's big voice or his fame. For this failing, they are mere numbers within the UK Border Agency's overloaded system, an inconvenience representing the 'third rail' of domestic politics.
For example, in September the UK deported 60 Sri Lankans despite warnings that they faced torture as pay-back for their roles in the island's miserable and violent political upheaval.
The human rights group Waging Peace helps Sudanese dissidents living in the UK, urging the government to recognise the danger faced by individuals and ethnic groups targeted by the Khartoum regime. According to Olivia Warham,
"It is frustrating to see the time and money devoted to protecting the rights of one man, Abu Qatada, while hundreds of brave but unknown political dissidents from oppressive regimes like Sudan must fend for themselves."
The campaign group No Deportations highlights the plight of dissidents who have sought refuge in the UK, only to find their testimony about what they have endured in their country of origin is not believed. It is doubly traumatic to bear the physical and psychological scars of an oppressive regime, and then to find indifference, at best, from the government you have long regarded as a shining beacon of liberty, and the very model of how you wish your own country would behave. Often they wait years for their cases to be resolved. They are left homeless in our big cities or held indefinitely at immigration removal centres, often struggling to get adequate legal representation.
Yet, the popular media brackets a few benefit-leach scoundrels and thousands of opportunistic economic migrants in with those who have taken a stand against corruption, extremism and authoritarianism at home.
At the heart of the Abu Qatada case is a dispiriting lesson for those relying on the UK's once honourable track record as a haven for dissidents: the rich, famous, notorious or powerful still have a better chance of justice.
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