Two Pakistani students arrested in a major counter-terrorism operation in north-west England have won their appeal against deportation. A special immigration court yesterday ruled that Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan could not be deported to their home country, Pakistan, as their human rights could be breached as the country has a ‘long and well-documented history of disappearances, illegal detention and of the torture and ill-treatment of those detailed.’
On the basis of secret evidence provided by UK security services, Justice Mitting said that Abid Naseer was 'an al-Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.'
Naseer and Khan were arrested in April last year along with ten others on suspicion of planning a bomb attack on targets in Manchester. Two weeks after their arrest, the men were all released without charge. However, ten of them who are Pakistani were detained again on the grounds of national security and after enduring months of detention, all but two of them voluntarily returned to Pakistan. The men have consistently protested their innocence.
In light of yesterday’s ruling, Naseer and Khan could now face control orders. Their lawyer yesterday said the ruling was 'no victory' even though they had won the right to stay in the UK because the pair have been 'stigmatised for life and put at risk or even further risk in their own country on the basis of the shocking phenomenon of secret evidence.'
Britain's home secretary, Theresa May, said she is 'disappointed' by the special immigration appeals commission’s decision and that the government was 'now taking all possible measures to ensure... [the men]... do not engage in terrorist activity.'
The openSecurity verdict: The ruling is the first challenge to a new coalition government in Britain inheriting a divisive system of dealing with terrorism offences. The controversial use of secret evidence has been vehemently attacked by critics. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, for instance, has argued that 'if the two men... are truly dangerous, then bring them before a jury, and, if convicted, jail them.' She further added that simply expelling suspects to other countries poses further security risks and that the policy of deportation is, therefore, inadequate. The government's insistence that the defendants be deported to countries where human rights are not valued amounts to 'extraordinary rendition' which, Chakrabarti asserts, was a practice both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats publicly criticised when they were in opposition.
The conviction that Naseer and Khan are terrorists has been upheld on the basis of evidence that both men and their solicitor have had no access to. Whilst recognising the 'complete absence of any evidence of the handling or preparation of explosives by Naseer and his alleged associates', the special immigration appeal commission's ruling alleges that the men were part of an al-Qaeda plot. Critics say the word ‘alleged’ is crucial since the commission's judgment is based on email intercepts that would be inadmissible in criminal proceedings. The men allegedly exchanged emails with a suspected al-Qaeda operative about a 'wedding', which the security services claim is code for a bombing.
The ruling will no doubt have implications for the way in which civil liberties are reconciled with national security in Britain. It will drag the Human Rights Act, on which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have differing views, into greater contention. The Conservatives have previously said in their manifesto that they would favour replacing the Human Rights Act with a UK bill of rights. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats have firmly committed themselves to defending the Human Rights Act, which enshrines a number of rights stated in the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. Many commentators predict that the coalition government will have to shelve the idea of replacing the Act, in light of the political reforms Nick Clegg introduced today in which he asserted that the government was ‘not insecure about relinquishing control.’
The international implications of the ruling are unclear though it may well affect UK-Pakistani ties. Britain’s cooperation with Pakistani authorities in intelligence gathering could be affected with the critique of Pakistan’s human rights record that has come to light in this case. Public opinion in both Pakistan and among the sizeable Asian and Muslim community in Britain may also be affected, especially if the ruling is perceived to be Islamophobic. The government’s efforts to tackle home-grown extremism and it’s attempts to promote democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan may also be undermined by the controversial, secretive and unfair way in which the trial of these men has been conducted. The dismissal of the right to a fair trial, a fundamental principle and backbone of a liberal democracy, prompt questions about justice and the rule of law – the very foundation of a civilised society that is being exported and fought for overseas.
Bangkok rocked by violence as ‘Red Shirt’ leaders surrender
Thai Red Shirt leaders surrendered to the authorities on Wednesday amid rioting and clashes in Bangkok that killed six people. The Thai government imposed a curfew last night in Bangkok and twenty other provinces. In a televised address on Wednesday, Abhisit Vejjajiva said authorities would soon 'end the problems and return the country to peace and order one again.'
Whilst Red Shirt leaders surrendered and told protestors to leave Bangkok's financial district, where they have been defiantly protesting for the government to resign, many of those retreating set fire to several buildings, including most notably Bangkok's stock exchange. Wednesday's government crackdown involved exchanges of fire between protestors and the army, with reports suggesting that violence is spreading.
Meanwhile, Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's ousted prime minister who many in the red shirt movement support, said he believes the crackdown could lead to guerille warfare. He stated that 'there is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerillas.' It is far from clear that the unrest that gripped parts of Bangkok for weeks is at an end.
Taliban launch attack on Bagram air base
A predawn attack launched by twelve insurgents on Bagram air base, one of the biggest NATO military bases in Afghanistan, resulted in the death of an American contractor and injury of nine US soldiers on Wednesday. Today's attack comes a day after a suicide bomber struck a military convoy in Kabul which killed twelve Afghan civilians and six foreign troops. Reuter's reports that 'the attacks may mark the start of a Taliban spring offensive against high-profile foreign targets.'
Witnesses say helicopter gunships responded to today's attack by firing into nearby areas. The International Security Assistance Force have been quick to deny the Taliban's claims that they breached the perimeter of the base. In any case, the Taliban have struck a symbolic blow by attacking the Bagram air base while the US prepares for a military offensive in Kandahar. The Taliban have already announced that they too will be planning their own spring offensive - al-Fatah, meaning 'Victory'.
Next week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai intends to hold a peace jirga, or consultative meeting with the aim of reconciliation and entering into negotiations with elements of the Taliban. Already however, some Afghan parliamentarians have expressed pessimism about the jirga, on the grounds that it lacks legitimacy and is nothing more than a publicity stunt. The US has, according to TIME Magazine, 'so far insisted that any peace deal with the Taliban would have to wait until the insurgency had been put on the defensive by a sustained military offensive that would make them more amenable to compromise.' Today's attack however suggests that 'the Taliban may be applying the same logic in reverse.'
New sanctions draft announced as pressure mounts on Iran
A draft resolution agreed on by the UN Security Council's five permanent members has targeted Iranian banks and calls for inspections of vessels that carry cargo relating to Iran's nuclear program. The draft will likely undergo revisions in the coming weeks but, so far, the ten-page proposed resolution will call on member states to ban Iranian banks from 'buying stakes in foreign institutions, opening new branches, or maintaining arrangements with foreign banks' if they are found to have dealings that could help Iran's nuclear programme, according to the Financial Times.
The Financial Times also notes that the resolution will ban Iran from investing in any uranium mining enterprises, and will likely target officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as associated companies, in the final list of targets. Iranian officials struck a defiant tone in response to the draft proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy and has ‘no chance.’