The sentencing today of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan by a US court after they pleaded guilty under plea bargain agreements to charges of terrorism is a damning indictment of the British justice system, its subservience to American interests and its differential treatment of Muslim suspects.
In return for a reduced sentence totalling twelve and a half years imprisonment the pair accepted guilt for running the Azzam.com website, as a fundraising and recruiting vehicle for the Taliban which was resisting the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Talha Ahsan was sentenced to time already served of about 10 years and released into the custody of US immigration officials pending possible deportation.
Ahmad was indicted on the flimsy basis that one of the servers used by the offending website was located in Connecticut, allowing US prosecutors to claim that an offence had been committed on US soil. His extradition was only sought by the US in 2004 after prosecuting authorities in Britain decided there was insufficient evidence to charge him with any offences under British law.
Ahmad was violently beaten by police during his arrest and in 2009 won £60,000 in compensation after London’s Metropolitan Police admitted subjecting him to a “serious, gratuitous, and prolonged attack”.
The allegations of terrorism against Ahsan were even more tenuous and revolved around him processing orders for videos that promoted jihad for Azzam.com. When Ahsan was extradited to the US together with Ahmad in October 2012, critics accused the government of discrimination in not refusing the extradition request on the grounds that he suffers from Asperger Syndrome, the same medical condition which prompted the Home Secretary Theresa May to block the extradition of computer hacking suspect Gary Mckinnon less than two weeks later.
Until agreeing to the plea bargains the pair had always maintained their innocence and insisted that they be tried by a British court. It is evident that they only accepted the plea bargains because of the impossibility of receiving a fair trial in the United States and the expectation that the time already served in custody would be included in their sentences – indeed Ahmad’s eight-years’ incarceration in the UK is the longest any British suspect has been held without trial in the UK in modern history.
The plea bargain also opens the door for Ahmad to serve the sentence in the UK nearer to his loved ones in a prison regime far more humane than the heavily-criticised ‘supermax’ prisons he faces in the US.
IHRC believes that the cases highlight how the prosecution of disproportionately large number of Muslims is being outsourced to Washington under the controversial Extradition Act which allows for British citizens to be extradited to the US without any prima facie evidence of their guilt being presented. Their number include Abu Hamza al-Masri, Adel Abdel Bari and Khaled al-Fawwaz who had himself spent 14 years in a British jail without trial awaiting extradition.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The fact that Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad look set to be coming home soon is welcome news. However their protracted ordeals are an object lesson in the structural prejudice and discrimination faced by Muslims in the UK criminal justice system.”
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