It wasn’t long ago that the infamous UK-US Extradition Treaty (2003) was a hot topic amongst Muslims. When Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were fighting their extradition to the United States, we were shocked that two British citizens with insufficient evidence to be prosecuted in Britain, were being handed over to the United States. Muslim organisations and activists raised awareness about these important cases, galvanizing Muslims to campaign against our lop-sided extradition treaty with the United States. We were reminded that as Muslims, it was our obligation to fight injustices in our society, and the fact that these men were held without charge or trial for eight years was indeed a grave error in our judicial system.
These pressure groups and activists had achieved a major feat, for which they must be congratulated. They had managed to get the Muslim community, previously notorious for being politically dormant, to get active in this cause. We saw it as part of our faith to counter the injustice that Ahsan and Ahmad had experienced. We wrote to our MPs, signed petitions and called upon the support of prominent non-Muslim human rights activists. We had managed to make so much noise that the media couldn’t ignore the story. Our efforts resulted in the political elite discussing the issue of extradition in Parliament, and we even managed to get David Blunkett, the Home Secretary who signed the extradition treaty, to admit his failings.
Although Ahmad and Ahsan went on to be extradited to the US, as a community we had achieved something significant; we had collectively initiated a public debate on a piece of legislation that was intrinsically unjust and arbitrary, and the scene was potentially set for those pressure groups and activists to take the matter further and compel a change in the Treaty or its interpretation, so that others do not suffer from the same injustices.
However, rather than follow this up, with hindsight it seems unfortunate that we began to lose interest in the issue of extradition once Ahmed and Ahsan were extradited. And now that these men are finally back and re-united with their families, its almost as if the extradition treaty has now become a non-issue.
However, the Treaty with the US is still very much in existence. On 16th September, Lauri Love lost a court case at Westminster Magistrates Court. The judge ruled that he ought to be extradited to America to face charges of hacking into servers at the FBI, the US Federal Reserve, NASA and US missile defence agency. Like Ahsan and Gary McKinnon before him, Lauri Love also has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and like Ahsan, charges against him were also dropped by the UK. Love has a complex diagnosis, and his case once again highlights the misinformation and lack of awareness that society holds about the Autism spectrum, and the need to stop criminalising sufferers.
What I have found particularly regrettable about this case, is the seeming lack of support and awareness within the Muslim community for Love’s case. I remember having discussions with some of these activists at the height of Ahmad’s and Ahsan’s case, who made the very valid point about how the Muslim community was quite reactionary in its political outlook; that we were silent when Blunkett initially signed the Extradition Treaty and only got involved in fighting it when it most probably was too late. Many Muslims continue to make the observation that we need to adopt a more proactive approach as opposed to a reactionary one. By remaining silent on Love’s case, we risk making the same errors that we did a decade ago.
Taken on face value, it would appear to the onlooker that we were never really interested in addressing the problematic Extradition Treaty, but just to free these men from prison, when the reality is probably far from this. However by ignoring the Extradition Treaty once these men came home, we must accept that a chance went begging; a chance to put further pressure on Government to ensure this doesn’t happen again, to anyone.
After all, how can we lay claim to genuine concern with justice, fairness and human rights, if the grossly arbitrary Treaty persists? A bilateral relationship that allows the US to provide no evidence for its extradition requests, while the UK’s requests are subject to rigorous evidential standards. If what underpins negotiation of bilateral treaties is national and public interest, why would our Government knowingly put us in a weaker position with another nation without good reason? Serious and far reaching questions need to be asked of why Blair amended the previously reciprocal Treaty in this way, the role of the context of the war on terror and what was offered Blair as a trade off for this concession, which ensured that the pesky UK Courts would significantly have less power to obstruct extradition (Ironically challenges at the European Court of Human Rights delay extraditions by up to 5 years or more).
By having ignored the issue and missing the opportunity to raise the above questions for the last couple of years, the momentum that had been built has now been lost. In essence, we now find ourselves near a position where we would have to start back from square one.
For those of us who are interested to show that true faith-based activism, we must be concerned with the injustice itself rather than affinity with the sufferer. There is still time to add our weight to Love’s campaign, ‘No Love for the US’. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd has the final say and should she refuse to listen, her decision is also open to legal challenge. Let’s prevent this man suffering the same injustice that Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan once experienced.