Help to free Talha Ahsan

A summary of the Extradition Act

The Extradition Act 2003 was a creation of the Blair-Bush partnership that allows British citizens to be whisked away to the US, to face trial under its dysfunctional judicial system, without the US government having to provide a shred of evidence beforehand - even in cases where the alleged crimes took place in the UK.

The central issue relating to the Extradition Act is not whether individuals requested for extradition by the US authorities are guilty or innocent. It is about the treaty being one-sided. The US can extradite British citizens for offences committed against US law - despite the fact that the alleged offence took place on UK soil. However, the UK does not have the right to do the same to American citizens.

The Extradition Act devalues the sovereignty of British citizenship and destroys the most elementary civil rights - Habeas Corpus, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the duty of the British Government to protect its own citizens. It was fast-tracked into UK legislation without proper scrutiny. Under the current provisions, British judges have no opportunity to decide which country is more suitable for prosecution, nor can they assess the quality of evidence from the requesting state.

In June 2011 the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights called for the implementation of a 'most appropriate forum' safeguard. This would allow a British judge to refuse extradition where the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK. The committee of MPs and peers also recommended that the Government 'urgently' renegotiate the US-UK extradition treaty to exclude granting requests in cases where the UK prosecution authorities have already decided not to investigate the individual on the same evidence adduced by the US authorities. These calls were reinforced by a cross-party consensus after parliamentary debates in November and December 2011, as well as the Home Affairs Committee report on extradition in March 2012.

Even David Blunkett, the Home Secretary who was responsible for the Extradition Act, now expresses regret at its consequences. Any concerned British citizen must work against such a law.

There are three significant reasons which make the case of Talha Ahsan highly controversial in the UK:

  1. The offences he is accused of were all allegedly committed on British soil. He has never in his life visited the US.
  2. All the evidence against him was obtained in the UK by a British police force.
  3. The Crown Prosecution Service has said that it has insufficient evidence to prosecute him in Britain.

In fact, the senior district court judge who originally approved the extradition of Babar Ahmad said that it was a 'difficult and troubling case' because if there was evidence he should be tried in the UK.

What do his supporters want?

Talha Ahsan deserves freedom or the right to a fair trial in the UK. He has received a wide coalition of support. They include his local MP and shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan; novelist, A L Kennedy; former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg, and the civil rights organisation, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC).

The Government accepts the possibility for the case to be resolved by a domestic prosecution as the ECHR highlights in their admissibility judgement of July 2010. In November 2011, his co-defendant, Babar Ahmad, initiated a parliamentary debate with over 149,000 signatures in an e-petition for a UK trial demonstrating the will of the British public for these cases. There are many legal precedents to try these charges in the UK.

One case is R v. Sheppard and Whittle (January 2010), in which the appellants were charged with possession, publication and distribution of racially inflammatory material on websites hosted in California. Lord Justice Scott Baker ruled the UK was the appropriate forum for prosecution as the substantial measure of activities constituting the crime, such as the writing and maintenance of the websites, took place in the UK.

The Home Secretary should also give special consideration to his Asperger Syndrome. In the US 97% of defendants plead guilty under pressure from prosecutors. A decision to try Talha Ahsan in the US will only ensure that his trial is as unfair as prosecutors can make it because the dysfunctional American justice system uses a bizarre concept of a plea bargain. A defendant is given a stark choice of holding a full trial with the risk of a very lengthy sentence if found guilty or pleading guilty at the outset and receiving a shorter sentence. The impossibility of a fair trial due to plea bargaining is a strong enough reason in itself never to extradite a British citizen to the US.

As a British citizen, he should have the full protection of the Government. If there are any charges to be faced then he should be tried in the UK where he will have the opportunity of a fair trial.

Continue Reading - A travesty of justice

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