Friday, 21 May 2010

Students case tests coaltion over human rights

The reaction of the coalition government to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) decision will determine how serious it will be on human rights.
Siac's ruling that the two students Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan cannot be deported to Pakistan, while labelling the former as an al-Qaida operative, underlines the total injustice of the secret evidence system.
The two men were part of a group of 12 originally arrested at Easter last year over an alleged terror plot. All the men were released within three weeks without charge, with those who weren't British citizens served with deportation orders on the basis of them being a threat to national security. Most have gone back to Pakistan but a few stuck it out, Naseer and Khan challenging the deportation.
The decision exposes many of the vagaries of the system of justice based on secret evidence that has grown up here since September 11 2001. It also creates a very dangerous precedent whereby individuals can be effectively tried on the basis of information they cannot see or challenge. A judgement is then reached which places them in a state of limbo - labelled terrorists but effectively trapped in Britain. There can be no appeal because they won the case.
Sarah Kellas of solicitors Birnberg Peirce, who represented the men, summarised the situation: "The decision of Siac today in respect of the two students we represent is in fact, for them, the worst of all worlds.
"On the basis of secret evidence which it refuses to disclose to the students, the court tells the world, in its judgment, that they are closely connected to an al-Qaida plot to cause explosions in the UK.
"The court acknowledges they have not been told why it comes to this conclusion, yet these young men have been branded publicly and thereby exposed to personal danger for the rest of their lives.
"Siac moreover refused them permission to appeal against its decision on the basis that they had 'won.'
"At the same time Siac has decided that neither can be deported to Pakistan without the probability that he will be tortured.
"The risk of such a fate has, of course, been heightened but in all likelihood created by the Secretary of State's claim and Siac's decision."
The latest judgement, coming at the start of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, represents an immediate challenge.
The Liberal Democrats, to their credit, opposed much of the paraphernalia of the secret state built up by the Labour government over the past decade. They voted against the renewal of the control order regime under the Prevention of Terrorism Act - the Conservatives abstained - and against the extension of pre-charge detention to 90 days and then 42 days.
The Liberal Democrats have also opposed the detention of children in immigration centres. Liberal Democrat MPs like Sarah Teather were good in opposition at raising the question of Britain's complicity in torture abroad and involvement with extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay.
The test now comes in government as to whether they will act to end the system of justice based on secret evidence.
The latest decision of the Siac certainly represents a challenge because it points to some sort of control order style detention/surveillance for the two students concerned, possibly in perpetuity.
This case represents an early test of the new government's human rights credentials. Will it act to truly role back the secret evidence system of injustice or lapse back into continuing to progress the authoritarian model of justice based on secret evidence?
The decision it takes will be a good indicator as to just how seriously the new coalition government does take human rights

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