Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg has launched judicial review proceedings against the Home Office for denying him a passport over the last eight years.
Begg, who is now CAGE Outreach Director, applied for a new passport in September 2021 but it was rejected even though a terror prosecution relating to his time in Syria collapsed in 2014, after which police accepted that he was innocent.
Begg says the passport deprivation has had the effect of hindering his investigative work, prevented him from visiting and attending family functions, and denied him the ability to lecture across the world.
The seizure of his passport has occurred three times over the last 17 years – each time no evidence was ever produced to justify this punitive action.
The Home Office has the power to deny a person a passport, and can even deprive an individual of their citizenship. In both cases, there is no effective right to appeal.
Begg says the government has been complicit in his “continued harassment” over the last two decades.
He said: “On the 1st September last year I was overjoyed to finally receive my new passport after having it revoked eight years ago following a trip to South Africa. I could finally travel for crucial work investigations and attend my daughter’s wedding party. But those hopes were short-lived. Three weeks later, I received a letter from the passport office saying it had been ‘issued in error’ and that it was still revoked. Laughably, the covering letter sent to me was incorrectly addressed to someone who’d been convicted for passport fraud in the north of England.
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“I’ve been held without charge in three military prisons, arrested three times by counter terror police and had my passport revoked three times over the past two decades. And yet, I have never been convicted of any crimes or had my day in court.
“I conclude that a combination of malice, indifference and gross incompetence has led the government to this point but it’s enough. It’s time to fight back – again.”
Begg was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan, handed to U.S. forces, and detained at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan before being moved to Guantánamo Bay. During his detention he was interrogated by British and U.S. intelligence officers but was released without charge in 2005.
His trips to Syria – for which he was later arrested and jailed – took place in 2012 and 2013. Before his second visit, Begg said he was contacted by MI5 and told them he was trying to investigate their role in working with the Assad regime in a programme of renditions.
Nevertheless, his passport was taken from him in December 2013, as he returned to the UK from a trip to South Africa.
Yvonne Ridley, broadcaster, journalist and author, said: “I’d like to call on the British government to end the harassment of Moazzam Begg. It makes the UK look incredibly weak to target him in this manner. A passport is not a privilege, it is a right. Do the right thing and return his passport and move on. This persecution he is enduring is the sort of thing that evil and brutal regimes do.”
Clive Stafford Smith OBE, human rights lawyer and co-founder of the NGO Reprieve, said: “I had the privilege, when Moazzam Begg was in Guantanamo Bay, to represent him. That is where I learnt for the first time the horrendous abuse he went through and the dreadful things the United States did to him. I’ve known Moazzam for 20 years, he’s become a close friend and I respect him immensely.
“I very much want to work with him on a number of human rights projects around the world but that’s made much more difficult because he doesn’t have his passport, which is unconscionable. Moazzam has been a force for peace and a force for good for many years now, he needs to be given his passport back.”
The Home Office has yet to publicly comment on the matter.
Moazzam Begg has started a crowdfunding page to finance his flight to get his passport back.