The Outreach Director of CAGE, Moazzam Begg, issues a plea to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to release British aid worker Tauqir “Tox” Sharif.
When Abu Hussam Tauqir “Tox” Sharif was first taken into custody almost two weeks ago, CAGE called on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) authorities to release him with immediate effect.
We said this because of our deep concern regarding the manner of his arrest, the treatment we feared he might receive and the ambiguity about the process of justice available to him.
Since that time, I have remained silent on Tauqir’s case and instead opted to follow a course of discussions and dialogue “behind the scenes.” However, I feel it is now time to make this open.
I first met Tauqir in 2012 when we travelled on an aid convoy to Syria together. He told me about his journey on the Viva Palestina convoy to Palestine in 2009, and his trip to help survivors of the Pakistan floods in 2010.
He also told me about his time on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that sailed as part of a flotilla attempting to bring relief to Palestinians in Gaza in 2010, and how a group of unarmed Turks were killed by Israeli soldiers after they boarded the ship.
We later stayed together in the Idlib region for several months. During our time together in Syria, I got to witness Tauqir’s work and passion for development and aid projects to assist the Syrian people.
Although I returned the following year, Tauqir remained and has since earned the deep love and respect of the local population. Everyone recognises this – including those who have differences with him.
As a British man with a large and influential media profile and as someone who runs multiple charitable projects, Tauqir has told me over the years how he has faced repeated threats of blackmail and extortion from criminals and armed groups.
In addition to threats to life by the Assad regime faced by all those in the rebel held areas of Syria, Tauqir has been threatened by ISIS even as his nationality was being revoked by the British government on the basis of “secret evidence.” This rendered him and his family effectively stateless. It is at this time Tox became a client of CAGE.
This is the backdrop to the case of a man who, under any other circumstances should be celebrated and rewarded for his humanitarian work. Instead, he has been harassed, threatened and penalised. Now, he’s been arbitrarily imprisoned.
Kidnap, torture and false imprisonment
For the past fifteen years, I have been telling the world that what the USA and its allies did to me and hundreds of others was kidnap, torture and false imprisonment.
Despite claiming to be countries that pride themselves on principles like the “presumption of innocence,” “due process” and application of “the rule of law,” we have shown beyond doubt how these principles have been repeatedly violated by nations that claim to uphold them.
When armed, unidentified gunmen from the Pakistani ISI and America’s CIA took me from my house in the middle of the night, despite acting in the name of their governments, we rightfully called it kidnap.
When the U.S. military held us in interrogation centres and prison camps like Bagram and Guantanamo without any charges or legal rights, we called it false imprisonment.
When they physically abused us and struck our faces and bodies, we called it torture.
When U.S. interrogators said that they could do all of this under “emergency measures” because they were “at war” we told them that there were no laws in their constitution that justified kidnap, false imprisonment and torture.
When they justified our imprisonment on the basis of “closed evidence” that they wouldn’t show anyone, we called it hearsay and baseless.
The whole world, especially the Muslim world, agreed with us – except for the those involved in oppression themselves. I am certain that HTS authorities would agree with this assessment too.
But, they should be alarmed because now they’re using the same arguments.
The rights of prisoners
I have tried to understand and analyse the nature of the rumours and allegations against Tauqir and what, if any, due process procedures are available to him.
I have spoken extensively with Tauqir’s family members; I’ve spoken with scholars who specialise in the Islamic judicial process, and negotiators close to HTS.
I have also sought advice and opinions from those who have fought against occupation and oppression and have suffered imprisonment for their role in fighting for justice.
I have tried to understand the complex system of groups, alliances and rivalries within the area and the wider picture around Tauqir’s detention.
These are the facts that have I have established thus far:
- Tauqir was approached by armed, masked gunmen on the evening of Monday 22nd June.
- During the process of trying to seize him, Tauqir was struck in the face which caused him to bleed and some later scarring.
- Tauqir was seized against his will and taken by force to an undisclosed location.
- Tauqir’s family home and work locations were searched.
- Nothing has been given to Tauqir or his family in writing by the people holding him.
- Tauqir is being held by security officials of HTS.
- Tauqir has not seen a judge and neither has a judge issued any document justifying the detention that he or any family member has seen.
- Neither Tauqir nor his family have been informed as to the proposed length of his detention.
- No clear path or process to justice has been presented to Tauqir or his family.
- Allegations against Tauqir have not been presented in writing by HTS.
- Tauqir remains detained in isolation at an unknown location.
It is true that HTS has recognised the charitable work of Tauqir. In addition, they have allowed him phone calls to his family and arranged a visit. Indeed, I am hopeful that Tauqir will be released soon but it is important that HTS understand that this is a clear violation of his basic rights as a Muslim, let alone one who has sacrificed so much for the cause of the people in Syria.
Before this episode, many people here didn’t know about HTS. Now they’re asking questions. What they’re seeing is that injustice is being done.
This is now the perfect opportunity for the people holding Tauqir to show the world that they are willing to accept advice from people who do not wish them harm and take the Islamic concept of justice very seriously.
Establishing and implementing a system of justice that recognises and affirms the rights of prisoners is a key divider between an entity that is serious about governing people and armed nations and groups that apply the law of the jungle. No one wants to be seen as the latter.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him said):
“Fear the supplication of the oppressed for between it and Allah there is no barrier.”
It is therefore my sincere request to the brothers at HTS to free Tauqir Sharif, now, and allow him to do that which the Muslims of the world have come to know him for: service of the widows and orphans of this conflict.