Muslim groups urge govt counter-terror rethink after Moazzam Begg release

CAGE demonstration outside the Home Office in 2014

British Muslim organisations have urged the government to re-think their counter terrorism policies after Moazzam Begg was released from prison yesterday.

All the Syria-related terrorism charges against Begg were dropped before his trial was due to start on Monday. He was arrested in February 2014, and has spent eight months in pre-trial detention.

According to media reports, the charges against him related to “attending a terrorist training camp in Syria between 9 October 2012 and 9 April 2013”, to which he was going to make a not-guilty submission. And although he has admitted to training Syrian rebels the Crown Prosecution Service has now indicated that it lacked evidence for a successful terrorism prosecution.

The Muslim Council of Britain said an urgent investigation relating to the circumstances of Moazzam Begg’s detention and subsequent release was needed.

Moazzam Begg was released yesterday from Belmarsh prison
Moazzam Begg was released yesterday from Belmarsh prison

In a statement the MCB said: “Clearly there are now questions to be asked as to why he was arrested in the first place, and equally importantly, whether the current imprecise definition of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ is leading to miscarriages of justice.

“That concern is all the more urgent following the Home Secretary’s speech yesterday on tackling terrorism and extremism, once again highlighting the problems with our current counter-terrorism policies.

“For the past few months, British Muslims have loudly and clearly spoken out against terrorist acts. Moreover we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.

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“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.

“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”

“Politicised policing”

Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family.

He said: “Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.

“The smearing of one man was being used to smear an entire community, heightening public fear and suspicion. We hope that people see the politicised way in which laws are applied to the Muslim community.”

“We hope the Muslim community remains steadfast in speaking out for their Ummah, despite the threats and intimidation thrown at them by the British state.”

And The Cordoba Foundation (TCF) also welcomed the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service to drop all charges of terrorism-related offences against Moazzam Begg.

Moazzam Begg leaving Belmarsh prison
Moazzam Begg leaving Belmarsh prison

A Cordoba Foundation statement read: “The release from prison today of Begg, once an innocent detainee of Guantanamo Bay, an author and a prominent British human rights campaigner, comes as a great relief to his family and friends, as well as the vast community who knew him and never believed for a second that he might have been guilty…

“TCF warned at the time that Begg’s arrest was politically-motivated and was the culmination of a long campaign of harassment from the UK authorities, including being prevented from attending events he was invited to abroad and the confiscation of his passport on numerous occasions.

TCF has a long-standing working relationship with Begg and the human rights and advocacy group CAGE. Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation said:

“Moazzam is a close aide to The Cordoba Foundation; we have been collaborating on several projects over many years specifically addressing issues relating to human rights violations perpetrated under the pretext of the so-called War on Terror, the criminalisation of the Muslim community, but more importantly, fighting for the rights of those illegally detained.

“Moazzam is a leading light in this field and is a well-respected personality in not only the British Muslim community but across British society, as the huge numbers of messages of congratulations and celebration show. Indeed, many of those messages were received from all corners of the world”.

Altikriti further commented that “it seems absurd that someone of Moazzam’s stature was accused of supporting terrorism, despite being a strong voice against extremism, and someone who has always encouraged Muslims and the wider community to become engaged with the local and national legal and political processes. I find it strange how someone viewed as an antidote to extremism and radicalisation, became himself, a victim of the ‘War on Terror…’”.

TCF believes that Begg’s unjustifiable incarceration, for the second time in his life-time, is representative of the fruits of the failed Prevent programme and anti-terror legislations which must be abandoned, for driving communities apart and creating a culture of fear rather than one of safety and security. This also highlights the dangers of home secretary Theresa May’s call this week for the abandoning of the Human Rights Act.

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