Reports have emerged that counter-terrorism PREVENT officers approached Birmingham mosques the day before a national protest against the arrest of Moazzam Begg.
West Midlands counter-terror officers visited mosques yesterday attempting to discourage Muslims from attending a demonstration that took place today.
The protest was organised by advocacy group, CAGE, Birmingham Trades Council, Stop the War Coalition and was supported by Moazzam Begg’s family.
Sariea Bano of Birmingham Civil Liberties Campaign told 5Pillarz: “Through credible sources we heard that West Midland Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit took to calling an emergency meeting with the Imams of our mosques with the agenda of asking them dissuade people from attending the protest.
“The PREVENT agenda has been used in Birmingham to silence our communities. Our mosques are scared that if they don’t comply they might be seen as radical…and some mosques have even accepted PREVENT money for activities. We know of PREVENT officers being placed in domestic violence meetings and paying for refreshments for youth projects as a means of accessing information.
“We knew that Moazzam’s supporters from Manchester had booked coaches to attend the protest but the police were also aware of this and contacted the sister organising the coaches wanting to know the numbers of people travelling, which coach company had been booked and whether they required a police escort into Birmingham.”
Manchester coach inquiry
Muryum Khan was the coach organiser who was bringing protestors from Manchester to Birmingham.
She said to 5Pillarz: “The police caught whiff of transportation being arranged from Manchester and on Friday afternoon, I received a call from counter terrorism officer claiming to be one of the ‘Demonstration Liaison Organiser’ assigned to the protest due to take place on Saturday.
“Officer Ronan Tyrer put on the façade that West Midlands police wanted to ensure all demonstrators arrived safely to the venue, and provisions were made for elderly, those with disabilities and even onsite parking facilities. I soon sussed him out as throughout our phone call, his prying questions were steered towards obtaining the numbers of protesters arriving from Manchester.
“Although I managed to avoid letting on how many supporters and transportation vehicles were going down, Ronan insisted on discovering the coach company details that I booked with alongside the drivers contact number. I have to say he was very duplicitous and intimidating in his approach.
“In the attempt to confuse and divert our course, the officer didn’t let ethics hold him back and outright lied to me regarding the ‘correct’ address on the demonstration poster. He claimed that the postcode was wrong and would take our coaches miles off course. When I asked what the correct postcode was, he said; “well if you take on our offer of a police escort and let me know the information I require then I can arrange that you arrive in the correct location.”
“I declined the offer and in a last attempt at wanting to put us off, he said that if I was to refuse the offer of an escort then it is likely we would be delayed by many hours as some major roadworks were taking place at the headquarters; which I discovered was a complete fallacy on arrival. It was only after his persistence did I finally respond to him due to the non-stop harassment.”
More than 200 people gathered outside West Midlands Police headquarters around midday.
Prominent Muslim leaders belonging to different organisations showed their support by attending, including human rights activist and journalist, Yvonne Ridley and former Respect Party Councillor, Salma Yaqoob who spoke at the protest.
During the demonstration, a statement from Begg’s daughter was read out by Cerie Bullivant, spokesman for CAGE:
“No six-year-old should remember their father being kidnapped and thrown into the back of a car. My father was released to our home safe in England without charge and without trial from Guantanamo by the time I was ten.
“He has lived in the home with the belief that England will keep us safe from unjust cruelly. Most would keep quiet after an experience like Guantanamo. My father never stayed silent. He fought to give a voice to the voiceless.
“To relive that moment once again four days ago was a nightmare I never hoped to encounter again. We are standing strong and we are ready for what may be a long and drawn out fight. My request to you all on behalf of my father and our family is do not let these issues rest and continue the struggle. Innocent until proven guilty.”
Syria related terror charges
West Midlands Police confirmed last night that former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Begg had been charged under Section 6 and Section 17 of Terrorism Act, providing training and fundraising in relation to Syria.
44-year-old Gerrie Tahari of Sparkbrook, Birmingham, was charged with facilitating terrorism overseas.
They both appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court at 10am this morning, where supporters of Begg and human rights activists also gathered. Mr Begg and Ms Tahari denied the charges put to them and will appear next at the Old Bailey on March 14.
Both were arrested on Tuesday. Two other men arrested the same day remain in police custody. They are a 36-year-old man from Shirley, Solihull, and a 20-year-old man from Sparkhill, Birmingham, who were held on suspicion of facilitating terrorism overseas.
Mr Begg was held in the US-run military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for nearly three years without charge.
5Pillarz has kept the names of the mosques and community leaders that were approached by counter-terror officers anonymous due to their personal safety and for legal reasons.