This is a story which will not make the front-page headlines of the British press and will not be aired on the mainstream news channels, writes Dilly Hussain.
Yesterday, an innocent man was freed for the second time in his life after being detained on terrorism charges. Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg was arrested on Tuesday 25 February for Syria-related terrorism offences. He was charged under Section 6 and Section 17 of the Terrorism Act, for allegedly training and funding the Syrian rebels.
Moazzam’s seven-month ordeal at HMP Belmarsh was incomparable to his three-year incarceration at Gitmo, where he experienced horrific treatment in one of the most inhumane prisons in modern history. On this occasion, financial sanctions were imposed on him, as a result of which his bank accounts (including joint accounts) were frozen or shut down.
His wife was unable to pay her utility bills that were held in their joint accounts without receiving a license from the Treasury, and it became a criminal offence to even try and support his family with money during this period.
Moazzam’s arrest corresponded with the UK government’s crackdown on activities related to Syria. Aid workers, Islamic charities as well as prominent Muslim figures were being targeted for their support of the Syrian revolution.
Moazzam is well-known to Muslims and non-Muslims across the world as a representative of justice, truth and human rights in the face of oppression, tyranny and injustice. Naturally, the right wing media will portray him as a terrorist sympathiser, supporting the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
However, the reality is this – after his release from Gitmo, Moazzam chose to pursue a path which challenged the same oppressors who had him imprisoned without charge for four years.
He joined advocacy group, CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners) in 2005, but his life as a determined human rights activist, responding to the call of those who fell victim to draconian anti-terror laws, eventually caught up with him earlier this year.
As the Syrian revolution gained momentum, and the rebels were a stone’s throw away from Damascus at the start of 2013, the British government began its campaign of criminalisation. Muslim humanitarian aid workers were arrested, demonstrations were closely monitored, and in Moazzam’s case, it seemed like investigating the wrongdoings of the British government had become a crime in itself.
The government’s “anti-Syria-related terror measures” included asking Muslim mothers to spy on their children, cracking down on online activities, the confiscation of passports, and revoking citizenships.
The Con-Dem coalition was relentless in its attempt to silence the genuine sentiments among many British Muslims who supported the Syrian revolution and the removal of a brutal dictator.
At an event held in Manchester in January entitled – “Is Islam Being Criminalised?” – Moazzam spoke to an audience of 600 people regarding the British government’s anti-terrorism strategy, and the harassment he faced for investigating the intelligence service’s links with tyrannical regimes in the Arab world.
During his speech, he said: “I told the British secret services that I’m going to Syria to investigate them. This war against Islam and Muslims transcends borders and continents, unlike any other war against any other group.”
Coincidentally, Moazzam’s last Facebook post before his arrest was, “Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse.”
From the onset, Moazzam had been open about his travels and his objectives, which included exposing the British government’s complicity in rendition and torture. The timing of Moazzam’s arrest (given his trip to Syria was in December 2012) requires a detailed explanation – which I doubt anyone is seriously holding their breath for.
Additionally, his arrest coincided with the release of CAGE’s report on Syria that was due to be given considerable media coverage. There were also concerns that the police and the security services applied ambiguous anti-terror laws to the Syrian conflict, which in turn made legitimate activities unlawful.
British establishment’s failure
Taking all the above into consideration, it is clear that the government along with law enforcement agencies failed miserably by attempting to intimidate the community by trying to make an “example” of Moazzam.
And his arrest and subsequent release have only further damaged the already fragile relationship between the government, its shambolic PREVENT strategy, and the Muslim community, which it aims to silence and ultimately control.
In an article I wrote for the Huffington Post last week, I said that Moazzam Begg was the closest example British Muslims had to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X – I reiterate this comparison with no hesitation whatsoever, at a time of immense hardship, pressure and demonisation for the Muslim Ummah.
British Muslim organisations across the spectrum have welcomed Moazzam’s release. No doubt he was in the prayers of many Muslims, and in the thoughts of his non-Muslim supporters who knew too well that an individual like Moazzam could never be guilty of the crimes he was unjustly arrested for…twice.
While British Muslims rightfully celebrate the release of one of their respected and admired leaders, days before Eid ul-Adha, I’m sure Moazzam along with CAGE will insist that the struggle for justice and against oppression is far from over.
May Allah (swt) hasten the release of all the innocent Muslims who have been imprisoned, tortured and falsely accused of crimes which they are not guilty of. Whether they are in Guantanamo Bay, prisons in the West or in the dungeons of tyrants in the Muslim world, may Allah (swt) grant them respite and their families patience because “Verily with hardship comes ease.” (TMQ 94:5)