Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hounded until his death

Faraj Hassan was not a criminal. He was an asylum seeker from the Libyan dictatorship. In late 2001, he fled the country and stayed temporarily in Italy, before travelling to the United Kingdom. He applied for asylum, and was granted temporary residence by the Home Office. A month after his arrival, in May 2002, he was illegally detained. Police initially tried to say that he was an illegal immigrant. When he presented his documents, they nonetheless insisted on taking him into custody. He was kept in jail, both in London and in Leicester, while the police prepared a prosecution. They alleged that he had attempted to blow up a church while in Italy. They never presented him with any evidence for this allegation. In 2003, he was charged under the Terrorism Act 2000, which awarded the state powers that it had not used since the Irish struggle. In the context of the 'war on terror', these became part of a legal apparatus that specifically oppressed Muslims.

Hassan was also presented with an Italian extradition warrant alleging that he was the leader of an international terrorist gang. The warrant was suspended, and he was found not guilty in absentia by the court in Milan. But he was nevertheless imprisoned in - variously - Leicester, Belmarsh, Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton and Long Lartin for four years on the basis of evidence which no one, neither Hassan nor his lawyer nor a jury nor the public, was ever allowed to see. Hassan detested Belmarsh in particular, describing it as "institutionally racist" due to the victimisation of Muslim prisoners, who are mainly held in a separate, highly securitised wing of the prison.

In 2007, he was released under a control order. A control order is a comprehensive deprivation of liberty, a sanction imposed by the Home Secretary on the pretext that its subject is a terrorist threat. It restricts where you can go, what you can own, what means of transport you can use, who you may associate with, what form of employment you may have (if any). In practise for Hassan it meant that he was prevented from having much of a life. He could not work, he could not take the bus to the supermarket, he could not travel to visit his brother.

Furthermore, on the basis of his imprisonment, the European Union applied a sanction permitted under UN law, that being the freezing of a person's funds. He was not allowed access to his money, so was wholly dependent on vouchers supplied through the Home Office. Challenging this EU penalty through the European Court of Justice, he was told by the court that he must avail himself of the opportunities for judicial remedy in UK domestic law if he meant to challenge the good faith of the British authorities. He and his solicitors did so. In 2009, Hassan was released from the control order. This was because the Law Lords had at last ruled that the use of secret evidence was illegal. Secret evidence had meant that the state did not have to meet internationally recognised standards of evidence before depriving a person of his or her liberty. It meant that any old dreck could substantiate a terrorism charge and warrant detention in Her Majesty's toughest prisons. Without the veil of secrecy, the basis for the government's prosecution and control order collapsed.

Hassan fully availed himself of his freedom to start campaigning for others who were unjustly or illegally detained. He spent Sunday night lobbying with others outside the US embassy, in solidarity with Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is believed to have spent five years in one of America's secret detention facilities, and was recently jailed in the US for allegedly shooting at US military personnel while detained by Afghan police in Ghazni, Afghanistan. She was shot in the abdomen by a US soldier, allegedly in defence, held in a medical facility in the US, tried despite obviously suffering from poor mental health, and convicted despite a lack of forensic evidence and contradictory statements from prosecution witnesses. Having spent the night with a protest at the US embassy, Hassan rode his motorcycle home yesterday morning, and was killed when a red minicab crashed into him.

He was only twenty two when he was first arrested, and he died before he reached his thirties. For most of his adult life, he was being persecuted by the British state and the international legal system on the basis of phoney charges, secret evidence, and the onerous laws that facilitate the political oppression of Muslims in the United Kingdom. He was a casualty of a perilous intersection between good old British racism, the increasing authoritarianism of the state in late capitalism, and the global system of surveillance, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings that US has promulgated under the mandate of the 'war on terror'.