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13 November 2012
Britain’s most high-profile political prisoner, Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, has been released on bail from prison on court orders after a UK judge blocked a long-standing UK Government bid to deport him to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, chairman of the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, doubted whether Abu Qatada would get a fair trial in Jordan. Specifically, the commission ruled that evidence obtained from witnesses under torture might be used against him if he were tried in Jordan.
Mr Qatada has spent most of the last ten years in custody in the UK without being charged with any offence.
This is a violation of the founding charter of English liberties, the Magna Carta of 1215, which provides that no one suspected of an offence can be deprived of their liberty sine die without being charged in court and tried before a judge.
In a report today in the London Guardian’s website, Abu Qatada’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, welcomed the ruling, saying: “It is important to reaffirm this country’s position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected – rejected by the courts of this country as by the European Court of Human Rights,” she said.
On the question of why Abu Qatada had never been prosecuted in the UK, Liberal Democrat barrister Lord Kenneth Macdonald, who was director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, is quoted by the BBC today as saying that he had never been shown any evidence to support a criminal prosecution.
Abu Qatada faces a retrial in Jordan for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999. He was found guilty of terrorism offences in his absence in Jordan in 1999. However, doubts have been expressed as to the fairness of that trial and the quality and nature of the evidence presented.
The court’s decision to block Mr Qatada’s deportation and release him on bail has united the UK’s political elite in a frenzy of condemnation.
The government has reportedly decided to appeal the decision in the Court of Appeal but the ensuing litigation could last years before a final court ruling is delivered.
According to the BBC, UK Tory Prime Minister David Cameron said: ““I am completely fed up with the fact that this man is still at large in our country.”
A spokesman for Cameron said that the Jordan Government had given assurances that Mr Qatada would receive a fair trial. It had even changed its constitution to that end.
Speaking in the House of Commons after Abu Qatada’s release, Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling reportedly said: “I do not believe it was ever the intention of those who created the human rights framework that we are currently subject to, that people who have an avowed intent to damage this country should be able to use human rights laws to prevent their deportation back to their country of origin.”
The UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, is quoted as saying on an ITV television programme: “He should not be in this country, he is a dangerous person. He wanted to inflict harm on our country.” According to the London Guardian, Clegg said the government remained “absolutely determined” to secure Abu Qatada’s deportation.
According to the BBC, the opposition Labour Party’s interior ministry spokesperson Yvette Cooper commented that people would be “horrified that Abu Qatada is now out on Britain’s streets rather than on a plane”.
The bail conditions imposed by Mr Justice Mitting on Abu Qatada include: being allowed out of his London home only between 8am and 4pm; having to wear an electronic tag; and being subject to restrictions in respect of the people he meets.
There are a number of points to make here:
1. Mr Qatada has not been charged with any offence in Britain.
2. No evidence has been produced to substantiate the claim that Abu Qatada is “a dangerous person”.
3. In democratic countries governed by the rule of law, people are by definition free go about their daily lives without fear of arbitrary arrest or imprisonment. Criminal charges must be tested at a public trial in a court of law. If Abu Qatada is suspected of having broken UK law, then he should be put on trial. However, it appears that there is no evidence upon which to base a charge against him. In which case, it seems to us, he should cease to be harassed by the UK authorities.
4. Antigone1984 forbears from making any comment as to whether Abu Qatada has committed a criminal offence or not. We do not know. However, we do know that he has not been charged with a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. Why then has he languished in a UK prison for most of the past ten years?
5. Senior politicians from all of Britain’s political parties have been working flat out to feed unsubstantiated allegations about Abu Qatada to the UK gutter press, which is only too keen to to whip up a lynch-mob mentality against him among the general public.
6. It seems that Abu Qatada does not normally wear a tie or a double-breasted suit. He is usually pictured with a dishevelled beard. He does not look like a company director or an investment banker. Unfortunately for him, he is a Muslim cleric who, in appearance, more than conforms to the stereotype of what many westerners think a Muslim fanatic must look like. Thus, at a time when Britain understandably fears a backlash as a result of its military occupation of Muslim countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, Abu Qatada is the perfect scapegoat for anti-Muslim prejudice, particularly prejudice against Muslims who have the cheek to take umbrage at the western invasion of lands inhabited by their co-religionists.
7. Jordan is not a country world-famous for democratic freedoms, the independence of its legal system or its respect for human rights.
Readers interested in checking out this story in greater detail should consult our earlier posts on the subject:
A. “From Magna Carta to Abu Qatada” (8 February 2012)
B. “Lynch mob” (9 February 2012)
C. “Fair Play Flouted” (14 February 2012)
D. “UK seeks torture ‘assurances’ from Jordan” (5 March 2012)
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.