Lynch mob

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9 February 2012


UK politicians, expediently foaming at the mouth, have taken the cynical decision to exploit populist hysteria and adopt  a lynch mob mentality towards the UK’s untried long-term Muslim prisoner Abu Qatada (For the full backstory, check out our post yesterday 8 February 2012 “From Magna Carta to Abu Qatada”).

Both major political parties – the ruling rightwing Conservatives and the equally rightwing opposition Labour Party – are vying with each other to determine which can heap the most opprobrium on this Jordanian citizen who has spent almost nine years in detention without charge or trial on the grounds of national security.

A British judge, Mr Justice Mitting, has just ruled that Abu Qatada must be released on bail, albeit under conditions of virtual house-arrest, including a 22-hour curfew and electronic tagging. He is expected to be released from prison within days if the Government cannot concoct a legal procedure for keeping him behind bars.

Nonetheless, the Government wants to deport him back lickety-split to Jordan to face terrorism charges there. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that this would be illegal on the grounds that he would not get a fair trial in Jordan since evidence obtained through torture could be used against him.

According to Andrew Woodcock on the Independent newspaper’s website, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan today 9 February 2012 about Britain’s efforts to deport Islamist radical Abu Qatada to stand trial in the country. There was no immediate detail available on how the discussion went.

UK junior interior minister James Brokenshire is to fly to Jordanian capital Amman next week to try to secure assurances to satisfy the ECHR that the Middle Eastern state will not use evidence gathered by the use of torture in any trial of Qatada.


According to a report by Alan Travis in Guardian newspaper for yesterday 8 February, UK interior secretary Theresa May has told Members of the UK Parliament that she disagrees vehemently with the ECHR ruling.

“I continue to believe Qatada should remain behind bars,” she said. “The right place for a terrorist is a prison cell. The right place for a foreign terrorist is a foreign prison cell far away from Britain.”

She told Members of Parliament that she wanted Abu Qatada out of Britain before the Olympic Games (which take place in London from 27 July to 12 August 2012).

The opposition Labour Party’s interior spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, asked that Abu Qatada be refused bail while discussions with Jordan took place.

Both political parties are seeking to capitalize on a wave of popular revulsion against Abu Qatada that has been whipped up by certain sections of the media regardless of the fact that – despite spending almost nine years under lock and key – he has never been charged with any crime.

Normally, in Britain if you are suspected of having committed an offence, you are brought to court and formally charged.

There is a deeper layer to this story, however. The eurosceptic right is using the Abu Qatada case to lash out at the Strasbourg-based ECHR and the fact that its rulings take precedence over decisions by British courts. Such people profess a belief in “British” human rights”, which apparently differ from “universal” human rights.  As these human rights are “British”, foreign courts have no right to interfere with the decisions of British courts.


An idea of the intensity of the hysteria surrounding this man can be gleaned from a thread currently running on the Guardian’s chat forum “Comment is Free”. Antigone1984 has added its pennyworth to the debate.

Here are examples of just a few comments:

HughManatee: “Let’s just suspend our duty to protect the underdog for once and boot the bastard out. If you keep him here and need to protect him, don’t use my fucking tax to do it.”

HudsonBarBarfly: “When this man has been party to a terrorist act that kills British people, and the likelihood is that he will, then, if we had any bollocks left in this country, we should ensure that, any man or woman involved in the decision not to allow the UK to deport him, is also blown up, shot or what-ever. Let terrorism hit those mealy-mouthed twats.”

Sugarcoatedsnack : “Strap a parachute on the bloke and push him out at 10,000 ft over Strasbourg.”

The thread tees off with a rabble-rousing article by Guardian commentator Simon Jenkins in the 8 February 2012 edition of the paper. The following is an extract (the bold type is ours):

“There is no argument. The Muslim cleric Abu Qatada is as unpleasant a character as ever graced Britain’s shores. Wanted on terrorism charges in eight countries, including his own of Jordan, his championing of al-Qaida and his delight in terrorist outrages puts him beyond any reasonable pale. He propounds violence and seeks to corrupt the young. There is no obligation on any country to tolerate such a guest. He is a citizen of Jordan and has forfeited any serious claim on the hospitality of the British judicial system….

“I can’t see why the government does not dump Qatada on the next plane to Amman. He has been declared a public menace, and charged with a serious offence back home. Britain is entitled to treat the ECHR finding as advisory and put its security first. Qatada broke his last bail condition and is as cast-iron a candidate for expulsion as can be imagined. The ECHR can go eat muesli.”


Antigone1984 commented as follows on Jenkins’s article:

“1.  So Abu Qatada “propounds violence and seeks to corrupt the young”.

How do you know?  Methinks you got it on the grapevine – straight from the mouth of the spooks.

2. Corrupting the young? Funnily enough, that is why Socrates was condemned to drink the hemlock.

3. ‘Britain is entitled to treat the ECHR finding as advisory…The ECHR can go eat muesli.’ (Jenkins)

Fine, provided we want to leave the Council of Europe. Otherwise, we are obliged to respect ECHR decisions. Either we obey the rules or we leave the club. The court is there to ensure uniform respect by the Council’s 47 members for the European Convention on Human Rights. When a court of law hands down a judgement that litigants do not like, are they entitled to treat it as “advisory” (ie to be ignored)?”

RobertMJones responded:

“Not true, both France and Italy have ignored similar rulings and they are still a member of the ‘club’.”


Antigone1984 replied to RobertMJones as follows:

“If some members of a club ignore the rules, that does not mean that every other member of the club is entitled to ignore the rules. If everyone ignores the rules, then the club ceases to exist. The rules are made by the club collectively in the interests of the club as a whole. If some members ignore the rules, then it is for the club authorities to bring them into line or expel them.

Is it really being suggested that member states of the Council of Europe are entitled to cherry-pick which decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) it suits them to accept and which decisions they can choose to ignore?

If individual member states of the Council of Europe refuse to accept the findings of the ECHR in a particular case, it is for the council’s political authorities – the Committee of Ministers or the Parliamentary Assembly, as appropriate – to bring them to heel. If they persist in refusing to implement the court’s rulings, they should be expelled from the club.

This presupposes, of course, that the council’s political authorities have the cojones to take on an offending state, which will exercise all the political pressure it can command to persuade as many of the other member states as possible to turn a blind eye, in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, to its transgression.

If, as a result of such pressure, no action is taken in such cases, the Council of Europe might as well wind itself up.  According to its own literature, “the Council of Europe was established to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law”.

End of quotes from thread

It is relevant here to mention that, according to the Guardian report by Alan Travis mentioned above, several Members of Parliament have demanded that legislation be introduced immediately to repeal Britain’s Human Rights Act and suspend Britain’s membership of the ECHR.

According to the report, Interior Secretary Theresa May assured them that she shared their anger and said Britain was “working very actively” to ensure that ECHR judges could not override the British courts.


This entry was posted in Jordan, Justice, Politics, UK and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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