The family of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen held without trial for seven years pending extradition to the United States under the controversial no-evidence-required Extradition Act 2003, have one week left to reach a total of 100,000 signatures on an e-petition calling on the government to debate changing the law so he can be tried in Britain where his alleged crimes were committed.
To date eighty eight thousand Britons have signed the petition but with just seven days to go until its expiration, a further 12,000 signatures are needed to trigger a parliamentary debate on our extradition arrangement with the US. As the petition explains:
“In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament, Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”
Who is Babar Ahmad?
Thirty-seven year old Ahmad, who stands accused of running a website supporting Chechen fighters, was first arrested at his home in Tooting, south London, in December 2003 by UK anti-terrorist police. He was later released without charge, but he suffered 73 injuries as a result of heavy-handed treatment meted out to him by officers who, Ahmad says, forcibly made him prostrate into the Muslim prayer position and shouted “Where is your god now?” Although the Metropolitan Police have paid out £60,000 to Ahmad in damages, four police officers charged with assaulting him were acquitted in June 2011.
The great irony of Ahmad’s case is that although he was re-arrested in August 2004 following an extradition request from the US he faces no charges here in Britain. Yet despite this, the US has sought his extradition on the basis of the same evidence that was deemed insufficient to charge him with any criminal offence in Britain. Caught in a legal limbo, Ahmad has been held as a ‘Category A’ prisoner ever since. Last year, he told the Independent: ‘To this day I have not even been questioned about the allegations against me’.
Five years ago, Ahmad lost his appeal at the High Court and on June 4th 2007, the House of Lords refused to grant him leave to appeal. But days later, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg accepted Ahmad’s appeal and ordered the government not to extradite him to the US. If extradited, he faces the possibility of being held in solitary confinement in a supermax US prison.
UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003
The UK-US Extradition Treaty has courted much controversy in recent years not least because a defendant facing extradition in an American court can challenge evidence against him while a UK defendant is granted no such right.
In an article published on this website in 2007, Stephen Taylor wrote:
“Under this law, bitterly criticised by our judiciary, Britain extradites for trial in America anyone wanted in a US court. We do this without question and require no evidence even of a case to answer. Our courts may intervene only to confirm the identity of the person being shipped.
You will not be surprised to learn we have no such rights over US citizens. The treaty does provide such rights to our courts; and that is why the treaty remains unratified by Congress. In Britain this law was never proposed to Parliament but published in 2003 under orders-in-council, using the Royal Prerogative.”
American prosecutors do not need to provide prima facie evidence when putting in an extradition request for a British citizen. But for British prosecutors the same does not hold true. To extradite an American, Britain must prove that the wanted individual has committed an offense, a much more rigorous process. It is this lack of reciprocity that led Nick Clegg to contend the treaty is "lopsided" and "gives more rights to Americans than British passport-holders".
Unsurprisingly, though the case of Babar Ahmad has courted much attention, many of the extradition requests currently going through our courts are unrelated to terrorism. At the heart of all these cases however is the principle of sovereignty, which supporters of those fighting extradition say is compromised. Offences that are committed on British soil should be punishable in Britain they say.
The case of Babar Ahmad affects us all however since the US has taken its jurisdiction on the basis that a website Ahmad had been running in the 1990s was hosted by a server in the US. But, as Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) notes,
“If Babar Ahmad can be extradited because a US server was used to host a website he used, what does that mean for other people who use US-based web services like Facebook? Tens of millions of individuals and businesses in Europe use these services. Do we all have to take care to comply with US law?”
How you can help
Babar Ahmad has been imprisoned now for over seven years. He faces no charges in Britain and yet no British court can release him. With only a few days until the expiration of the ‘Put Babar Ahmad on trial in the UK’ e-petition, you are asked to kindly take a few moments of your time to sign it so that the US-UK extradition treaty is debated in parliament.
The petition for Babar Ahmad is not suggesting that his crimes go unpunished. Rather it calls for him and others like him - most notably Gary McKinnon, a Scottish man fighting extradition after being accused of hacking into US military computers - to be tried in the UK where alleged crimes are said to have taken place.
By signing the petition, not only will you be upholding the right to a fair trial you will be safeguarding your own civil liberties and right to a fair trial. Every signature counts.
Sign the petition at www.letsgetjustice.com.